My Jewelry

M. Carter cover

Mortal Man

My Jewelry

By: Michael Carter

“Your hearing loss is more noticeable than your hearing aids will be.” My audiologist said those words to me as I sat in her office for my consultation about my hearing loss. Much to my wife’s frustration, I put off going to a hearing specialist for a very long time, and now I was afraid what the test results would reveal. For years, I tried to compensate for my hearing loss, by turning my head when in quiet conversation, to get people to speak into my right ear, which could pick up voices a little easier than my left one. My wife often said the TV volume and the radio in the car were too loud, and I frequently had trouble understanding what my grandkids were saying.

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In the small soundproof booth designed to expose my auditory failings, I concentrated and strained to hear every tiny beep, and buzz. When the test was over, I was informed that I would not need one hearing aid, but two due to moderate hearing loss.

 I tried to recall the cause of my predicament. Was it the Hong Kong Flu that I suffered when I was 7 years old? Was it being hit on the chin by a baseball bat at age 12? Being the music lover that I am, was it listening to Earth, Wind and Fire, The Police, and Heatwave with my headphones, volume on high? Was this a side effect of some medication I had taken at some point?

Ultimately, does knowing the cause really matter at this point?

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Several days later, I picked up my hearing aids with much anticipation, wondering how my life might change. After a brief tutorial, I placed one in one ear, then the other. The difference was dramatic and immediate. I could hear the air conditioning unit pushing out cold air; I heard my sleeve being rustled by my hand. I scratched my forehead, and not only did I feel it, I HEARD it as well, Wow!

As we drove home, the radio played at half the volume I had previously had it on, and I heard the turn signal of my car for the first time in a long time. I began to realize more and more how much I had been impacted by hearing loss, and how selfish I have been all of this time because the loss had not only affected me, but those around me.

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As my wife and I went for a walk that evening, I heard sounds, which I had not heard with such gusto in a number of years, birds chirping and leaves crunching under our feet. I also heard a train in the distance. 

I discovered that wearing hearing aids has not made me feel old and incapable as I thought they would. In many ways, it has been liberating; allowing me to enjoy many things more richly. My wife calls my hearing aids “jewelry”, and like what happens when one buys a car and notices other cars of that model never noticed before, I began to notice other people wearing their “jewelry.”

My “jewelry” has enhanced the quality of my life by improving my interactions with people at work, my family and friends.

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According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 15% of American adults report some trouble hearing. Men are almost twice as likely as women to have hearing loss among adults aged 20-69; and One in eight people in the U.S. aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations. Armed with this knowledge and “my jewelry” I am now an ambassador for the importance of good hearing.



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Michael Carter

My Jewelry

Husband, Father, Brother, Mentor

Chief Diversity Officer at Sinclair Community College

Hearing loss affects 48 million people in the United States. It is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults.

Some degree of hearing loss may be a normal part of aging. Age-related hearing loss occurs gradually and tends to affect each ear equally. It's often the result of changes in the inner ear. Because age-related hearing loss occurs over time, it can be difficult to recognize.

Signs and symptoms of hearing loss may include:

Muffling of speech and other sounds. Difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise or in a crowd of people. Trouble hearing consonants. Frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly.

Permission to Cry

mortal man

permission to cry

by: tripp fontane

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Permission to cry, mama?

I know you say big boys aren't supposed to

What about when I don’t feel so big

When I feel as small as singular salt stain on cheek

I’m hurt

Watching you hurt

Forcing your body well past 40 hours

Working your fingers to arthritis

Struggling to interlock your fingers

Planting prayers under your pillow

Crying over them nightly

At least let me cry with you

Maybe they’ll grow faster

 

Permission to cry, babe?

I know it makes me weaker

A little less man with every tear

But I'm tired

Exasperated

From keeping it all in

My arms aren't big enough to hold us both together at once

I'd rather let it out than let you go

Are my tears safe with you?

Can I trust you enough to lay down my burdens

And them not being weaponized and held against me?

Can I be imperfect?

More man than super

Must my masculinity be my kryptonite here too?

 

Permission to cry, my nigga?

I mean I was there when it happened

I know it's against the code

But I don't wanna be a G right now

I just wanna grieve

My eyelids ain’t got much strength no way

Closing my eyes couldn’t stop closed casket

Couldn’t stop me from seeing just how cruel fate can be

I can’t continue on congested

Heavy

No Paul could bear the weight

Eyelids weary from playing dam to an overdue river of truth

My eyelids not strong enough to stop me seeing

 

Permission to cry, dad?

I know it’s not how you raised me

But, I’ve fallen

Too many times to ignore pain

I’ve been in pain too long to continue neglecting the healing process

‘Cuz I don’t wanna be the man your actions taught me to be

Cold

Bitter as tears that never fell

Oppressive weight you were too “strong” to let go

You taught me emotionally immature

You taught me to trap myself behind walls of bravado

To call them protection

Call them manhood

Do you even remember how to cry out for help?

 

Permission to cry?

‘Cuz I’m broken

From contorting spirit into stereotypes called masculinity

From trying so hard to pull the pieces together

They’re never all they cracked up to be

Permission to be

Okay

Or

Not okay

And express is

Permission to express

To evict negative energy without fear of judgment

Permission to breath

To sigh in the name of relief

Permission to baptize

To be cleansed in a collection of my own tears

Permission to...… to...… to...


Tripp Fontane

Rapper | Poet | Educator | Author

Tripp Fontane is a Dayton native - rapper, poet, educator, author of the book (All Is Fair - A Collection of Poems and Thoughts on Love) and founding member of the spoken word group of Underdog Academy.

instagram: @trippfontane and @underdogacademy

facebook: Tripp Fontane

twitter: @TrippFontane

website: uapoetry.com

booking inquiries: trippfontane@gmail.com

order Tripp’s (All Is Fair) book: All Is Fair

Meet Dr. Cleavon Matthews Sr.

One of the perks about being a photographer is the wide range of people that I get to meet and establish relationships with. In this series I feature a few people that I have met and photographed recently that I think you should know.
— Aaron Paschal
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Dr. Cleavon Matthew Sr.

Minister, Leader, Author, Orator, Counselor and a Guiding Light

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This past summer I had the pleasure of meeting and photographing Dr. Cleavon Matthews Sr. at Bold Believers Church of Christ. As a photographer it’s important to me to tap into people’s personalities and what stood out to me about Dr. Matthews was his passion, commitment and positive spirit.

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Dr. Cleavon Matthews Sr. is also a prolific leader, orator, communicator, and author. He is highly sought after and accomplished as a person of influence locally, nationally, and internationally. He serves as Chairman of the Midwest Conference of Churches of Christ. He is academically accomplished having obtained the Doctor of Ministry degree from Amridge University. He is also a Registered Nurse and a Licensed Professional Counselor. Through his ministries he continues do extensive work in church consulting and premarital counseling. He has written several publications including two books: Get In The God Zone and Unmasking The Satanic Attack Against Masculinity. He ministers to the Bold Believers Church of Christ in Dayton, OH.

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If you are looking for a church to visit or a new church home I encourage you to visit Bold Believers Church of Christ located at 1306 Salem Avenue in Dayton, OH.

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You can learn more about Dr. Matthews and the Bold Believers Church of Christ on their website https://www.nthwcoc.com/ or by following their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/boldbelieverscoc/

Church grows out of its space, finds a new place to call home

By Beth Anspach | Dayton Daily News

Over the years, churches have transformed themselves. Congregations of believers meet in private homes, in open fields, in tents or in expansive sanctuary buildings. But the one thing they have in common is each group comes together to worship and share their shared beliefs.

Dr. Clevon Matthews moved to Dayton from Orlando, Fla., 15 years ago because he saw an opportunity to lead a church he believed would be a better fit for him and his family. What was then known as the Northwest Church of Christ on Broadway Street in Trot wood had been a gas station when the small congregation bought the building in 1981.

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“As the church grew, they ran out of space, but it served us well,” Matthews said. “The building sat on four acres, so we investigated the possibility of building on the property.”

Matthews said a new church building was cost prohibitive for the small congregation of 300. But about two years ago, he was introduced to the Solomon Foundation, an organization headquartered in Colorado and devoted to helping churches reach their ministry and growth goals by providing low-interest mortgage and construction loans.

“They (Solomon) specialize in taking older properties and remodeling them for churches,” Matthews said. “After we applied and were approved, we started looking around for existing properties.”

In 2014, Matthews happened to be driving a guest minister around Dayton to show him the area and was explaining about their efforts to expand the church. As they were driving, they noticed a vacant property on Salem Avenue, formerly the home of the Beth Abraham Synagogue.

“I remember thinking at the time that this would be a great place for our church,” Matthews said. “But I put it out of my mind.”

Three years later, a member of Matthews’ congregation, a real estate agent, took him to see the same property, which had been a conference center for a Baptist Church, but had since been vacant again for the past four years.

“I could see it as soon as she brought me in,” Matthews said. “The building has very good bones. Of course, it needed TLC and renovation, but it had a good layout and infrastructure.”

Matthews knew that to grow his congregation, he would need more visibility. The former gas station in Trotwood was difficult for people to find.

“Being right on Salem Avenue gives us the visibility we need to have greater impact,” Matthews said. “The church was on board with the move and we had the resources to do it, so we took the bold step and closed on the property in January of 2017.”

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The entire congregation worked together on the renovations beginning that spring and the new church was completed the last week of June this year. Now christened the “Bold Believers Church of Christ,” the congregation has room to grow in 45,000 square feet, up significantly from the 7,000-square-foot building in Trotwood.

“We removed old seating in the sanctuary, did cleaning and landscaping, got rid of flooring and moved furniture, put in a new HVAC system that is more efficient and put in new plumbing,” Matthews said. “We also put on a new roof and had new parking lot paving done and painted inside and out. We have a new sound system and sanctuary seating and it’s amazing!” Matthews said his personal vision for the new building is outreach and he wants it to be not just a place to have church on Sundays but also a community center as well.

“We want it to be used every day of the week,” Matthews said. “One component is to have a counseling center. My wife is a licensed counselor, as am I and one other member, so we want to have a space for that. We also want to offer a pre-K program in the future and have another space for banquets and community events.” Matthews said he sees the church not as a building, but as its people, so he wants it to be a beacon of life and hope with his focus is on the counseling center and the needs of the Dayton community at large.

“I’m talking about suicide prevention, crisis response, partnering with Montgomery County Juvenile Court and looking at how we can help families and parents in meaningful and practical ways,” Matthews said. “We want to address violence and poverty in significant and meaningful ways.”

 
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Dr. Cleavon Matthew Sr.

Minister, Leader, Author, Orator, Counselor and a Guiding Light

BOLD BELIEVERS CHURCH of CHRIST

1306 Salem Avenue, Dayton, OH 45406

937-985-9320

boldbelieverscoc.com

Interview with Photographer and Art Director Mathieu Bitton

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You may not be familiar with the name Mathieu Bitton but chances are that you’ve seen his work before. Mathieu is a modern day renaissance man. He is a photographer, art director, film maker, globe trotter and father. The Grammy nominated artist has had work featured in numerous magazines, album covers, music and movie posters, coffee table books, packaging, merchandise and of course photography exhibits. He is also a Leica Cameras ambassador and official tour photographer of Lenny Kravitz and has also been hanging out with Dave Chappelle quite a bit lately.

I have been following Mathieu’s work for the past few years so when I saw that Lenny Kravitz was billed to be one of the headliners at this year’s Bourbon and Beyond music festival in Louisville the very first thing I did was reach out to Mathieu to see if he would be coming along and willing to meet up.

I see photographers make the same mistakes all the time and I’ve seen it here today where they will just walk up and start shooting. There’s no bridge, no preparation, there’s no making someone comfortable or even introducing yourself
— Mathieu Bitton

Aaron Paschal: Thank you for taking time out to meet with me. I’ve been a fan of your work for quite some time so it’s great to be able to sit and chat with you.

You’ve been REALLY busy lately and you recently did the cover shoot for Lenny Kravitz’s new album “Raise Vibration.” What’s that experience been like for you?

Mathieu Bitton: It’s been really cool. I’ve been working with Lenny for right about a decade now and although I shot all of the inside photos and back cover for his “Black and White America” album he used an old childhood photo for the front cover so this is actually the first time having a front album cover with Lenny.

We did the shoot it in the Bahamas without even really thinking about the album. We were just hanging out on the beach and we were taking photos and playing around and then we looked at the back of the camera and were like, “that’s it, that’s the album cover!” I’ve found that that’s the way the best stuff happens, when things just fall into place. So it’s been pretty exciting to finally have a Lenny Kravitz album that’s been all of my photography and design from cover to cover.

AP: I can tell that you enjoy that process.

MB: Definitely. I’ve shot and designed a lot of album covers for other people so it was only right that I finally did one for Lenny. I’ve pretty much done all of his singles but this except for the last album, “that was another photographer” but all of the singles from “Black and White in America” and all of the deluxe editions were done by me.

AP: I see that you were listed in the credits on the last two Prince releases “Purple Rain Deluxe” and “Piano and a Microphone 1983.”

MB: Yes, helping out in these releases has been a dream come true. I knew Prince and had worked on a couple of his projects in the past. He was my favorite artist of all time and I’m still completely heartbroken about his passing so that’s a tough one. I hope that more of his amazing, unreleased music like this will eventually become available because there’s a lot to be heard.

AP: Are there any other album design projects that you have in the works?

MB: I also just designed 2-LP deluxe vinyl reissues of Lenny Kravitz’s first six albums, with more on the way, as well as several deluxe editions of “Raise Vibration.” Other new vinyl releases I’m excited about having designed are both of James Brown’s Classic Blaxploitation soundtracks “Black Caesar” and “Slaughter’s Big Rip Off,” the Willie Hutch soundtrack to the legendary Pam Grier films “Foxy Brown” and Roy Ayers - penned “Coffy” as well as the previously unreleased Velvet Underground 2LP “1969” and the related Nico album “Chelsea Girl.”

AP: You are ALWAYS on the grind. What keeps you going?

MB: I love what I do so that’s the only thing that keeps me from going insane. I am at the point now where I really need a break but I’m out photographing Lenny’s tour which is a relatively short tour that only runs a couple of weeks and then I’m supposed to go to Europe with Dave Chappelle and Jon Stewart. Once that’s done I’m thinking I may get to spend a little time at home. So far this year I have not been able to spend more than two weeks there at once. Last year was similar too. I’m so grateful that I just look at things and see myself as the lucky one. Yeah, I’m out of shape and a little exhausted but I’ll find time to catch up.

AP: One thing that jumps out to me is the relationships that you seem to have with the celebrities and people that you work with. When I look on social media they don’t just “tag” you in the pictures but quite often they post pictures of you, or with you and it’s obvious that there’s a genuine level of respect and friendship. Can you talk about how important it is to establish those type of relationships?

 MB: What sets photographers apart is being able to establish good, friendly relationships with the people that you work with. You want them to be comfortable with you. I see photographers make the same mistakes all the time and I’ve seen it here today where they will just walk up and start shooting. There’s no bridge, no preparation, there’s no making someone comfortable or even introducing yourself. This generation that we are in now with the selfies and photos every five seconds there’s no boundaries for capturing “moments.” So you need to actually respect the people that you’re shooting and at the same time with me I’ll speak for myself, “I have a lot of gratitude for just being there.” The fact that they trust me and the fact that they brought me somewhere and gave me access to photograph moments for them; I want to give them the best possible work based on that and they appreciate that.

Dave Chappelle mentioned my name in his Netflix special and I was completely blown away by that. But there’s a reason for that. Over time you establish a mutual respect for one another and I don’t look at it as business from that point. It becomes more of a friendship and we just happen to be working together but it’s friendship first. I think that shows in my work as well because people are more relaxed and they give you more access to certain situations. My relationship with Dave Chappelle is another example of that. He’s a private guy and doesn’t really allow any photographers at his shows. All of a sudden we developed this relationship and I’m given all of this access.

My friend, the legendary D-Nice is a great Leica photographer who’s been shooting there with Dave for years before me and the greatest harmonica player in the world - Fred Yonnet who I refer to as my photography student – “and he has a great eye” both have full access to shoot Dave as well. So it’s a small group of us and I have nothing but gratitude for that. Fred was actually shooting Nikon when were at Radio City Music Hall last year but I turned him onto Leica and so now he’s loving it. So there’s a few of us that Dave will allow to shoot but that’s also based on the results. If somebody sees your work and they’re not impressed they are not going to waste their precious time so I constantly have to deliver my best possible work.

Last week I had a totally impromptu shoot that I wasn’t really prepared for. I was asked to come by the Peppermint Club in Los Angeles. I didn’t know what was going on so I just grabbed my Leica Q, which is a great camera but I use it more for backstage photos or just running around. It’s not my big camera that I use. Along with Dave, LeBron James, Jon Stewart, Katt Williams and all these big names were there and on top of all of that Will Smith did his first ever stand-up comedy show. So I felt a little handicapped. I had all of this incredible stuff in front of me and there I was shooting with this 28mm lens. In the end they are all looking at my images saying “wow these photos are great!” But I’m sitting there totally insecure. I’m thinking I fucked up; I should have had my Leica SL “my big camera.” But hey, you win some you lose some. We still got some cool stuff. That’s one of the things that I love about working with people like Dave, and Prince was like that too; you never know what’s going to happen and that keeps me on my toes!

AP: That’s great to be creatively pushed and challenged like that. I’ve watched you shoot before. It was at Dave Chappelle’s Juke Joint in Yellow Springs, OH earlier this year. For those that don’t know this event goes on until nobody’s standing!

 MB: Yes! I came in from Paris that day where I was at the rehearsals for Lenny Kravitz’s tour. I got off the plane and went straight to the gig so I had been up all night. I think by the time I got back to Paris I realized that I had been up four days straight. So yeah, it’s a demanding gig but they are so much fun because you never know who’s going to be there or what’s going to happen.

AP: Do you have a bucket list of people that you would like to photograph?

MB: It’s funny, my sorta bucket list is always Jack White. Well I recently designed a poster for his tour. So I was like okay, “that was another dream come true.” But he’s one that’s definitely one that was on my bucket list so hopefully I’ll get to photograph him some day.

I have had the opportunity to shoot so many artists and people that were on my wish list in the last couple of years it’s been crazy. I would like to do a proper shoot with Jay-Z. As far as portraits Larry David and Woody Allen are two people that I would like to sit down and do portraits of. I’ve shot a lot of comedians but those two are musts! Woody is getting up there in age now so…

AP: Have you tried reaching out to them?

MB: I tend to let things like that happen naturally or if something opens up I find ways to make it happen. Melvin Van Peebles had always been someone that I wanted to photograph and things worked out where I got to go to his place and shoot him so that was amazing. That happened completely naturally through a friend of mine that used to be married to Mario Van Peebles. Their son was going to visit Grandpa Melvin and she said, “hey maybe you should grab your camera and go along.” That ended up being a dream come true for me.

AP: What advice would you give to aspiring music photographers?

MB: If you play your cards right things have a tendency to fall into place. It’s that whole Laws of Attractions. If you’re on the right path and you do what you should do and you’re not lazy a lot of things will come your way. I’ve found that a lot of people are just lazy. I get a lot of messages from people complaining about my son Miles. He’s 18 and just went off to college but he trained with me and he’s becoming a great photographer in his own rights. I get people complaining that it’s not fair, that it’s nepotism - I’m like what!? “He’s my kid, it’s my responsibility to show him things I know and I want to hang out with him.” He’s not even trying to be a photographer but he’s been able to get some great shots just from going to events with me. Now Miles is off in college I look at his instagram account and he’s getting the most amazing photos. So he’s on his own now and that’s great! If you are real and honest and grateful things do fall into place.

AP: So with all of the things that you have on your plate do you do all of your post work “edits” on your photos?

MB: I do all of my post work and I do it quick! “laughs.” I boost a few levels in Lightroom and then I’m done. Sometimes it’s exhausting and I’m like wow, “how am I going to work my way through these images.” Like last week at the Peppermint. I had traveled from Paris to New York, back to Los Angeles, back to New York, back to Los Angeles. So I was tired and wondering how am I going to find time to edit all of these images tonight. The thing is that there were a couple other people that were there shooting as well so it’s competitive. So I was thinking that if I don’t do mine right now those other photographer’s images are going to be out first. Usually when I’m working with Dave I’m the only photographer shooting for the sake of press but that night Will Smith had a guy there shooting as well so I was like “oh shit, I have to get these ready!” and like I said I was already insecure about not having the right camera.

AP: I actually became aware of your work and started keeping up with you a couple of years ago when I came across your Darker Than Blue project. I was on Instagram and Leica posted these amazing black and white images that captivated me. I called the Leica Store in Los Angeles to order the book and you just so happened to be there. We spoke on the phone briefly and you signed my copy of the book. What’s going on with Darker Than Blue now and do you plan on doing more projects like that?

MB: You’re lucky, those things sold-out quick! I actually saw one on eBay that sold for a couple hundred bucks and I thought that was crazy. I’m working with a publisher now to publish a proper copy sometime soon but that edition that you have is a rare one and I’m glad that you got a copy!

Darker Than Blue is an ongoing project that I’m continuously adding to. I keep getting asked to do music exhibitions which I may do eventually but I feel like I’m not done with Darker Than Blue yet. It’s a traveling exhibition so now it’s in Germany and then I think it’s going to Shanghai and Singapore and like I said I keep adding pictures to it. Once I do the big book and I feel satisfied that I’m done then I do a exhibit with images from my music photography. But Darker Than Blue is such a passion project that I’ll probably just keep shooting sand adding to it. There’s so many beautiful people. I grew up in Paris and Paris is the place that opened it’s heart to jazz and embraced black culture at a time when guys like Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon couldn’t even use certain restrooms in America. They were treated like Gods in France so I feel like that’s in my blood. I grew up on black music, black films; so I appreciate black culture. I think the karma in that is that now I get to photograph and hang out with my favorite artists. When the Chappelle show was out that was like religion for me. I was like “I can’t go anywhere or do anything tonight! I gotta watch The Chappelle show!” So now if I go back to myself at that time, watching Dave Chappelle, Questlove, John Mayer, Mos Def and all of those people on the Chappelle Show and realizing that now I’ve literally worked with and became friends with all of them, it’s kind of surreal. I’ve had that a lot in my life and the only way that I can describe it is pure passion. It’s not always about money or saying I’m not gonna do some big project that I’m not going to get paid for it. With me it’s all about passion. Sometimes you get paid what you deserve, sometimes you do it just because you want to do it and sometimes you just want to help someone out.

The success is to not have rules. The only rules you have are boundaries and respect. Some people respect you and when people try to start cutting corners that’s when you know it’s not going to work. So knowing who you are and your value as a photographer is important. Sometimes it doesn’t seem real. I’m humbled when people send me messages or stop me on the streets. I look at them like “I think you got the wrong guy.” I’m glad because I don’t want to be like Kanye West about it. I don’t want to be like “yeah my shit is dope!” To me that’s the best shit in the world - when people let you know that they appreciate your work. But I realize that the subject plays a role in it too so it’s a combination of things. It drives me a little crazy when I see people taking themselves so seriously. We all can do it. Creating a way to get the access is the main thing; creating that trust.

AP: What do you hope to achieve “creatively” in the next twelve months?

MB: That’s a really good question. I’m just finishing up another documentary a film of Lenny Kravitz about his new album “Raise Vibration.” I think I’m going to get more into film work. Maybe features, I don’t know if that will happen within a year but it’s definitely a big dream of mine to make a feature film. Just keep growing. But that’s such a good question because I don’t even know what the universe has in store for me. I like to have some published books.

AP: I’m sure you get asked this question a lot but of all of the concerts and events that you have captured which one is your favorite or stands out to you the most?

MB: Wow! Well Dave’s stand at Radio City Music Hall for a whole month last year was the most insane experience of my life. Being on tour with Lenny there’s been some shows where I’ve been blown away. But there’s not one specific show that I can point back to. The other night at the Peppermint Club I left there thinking “wow, this may be the best night of my life” but that was just the latest time I said that. (Laughs.) Seeing Will Smith do stand-up for the first time in his life was crazy AND to get to shoot it was amazing. And he was funny. LeBron was funny too. I had already shot LeBron with Dave before about a year and a half ago but Dave brings that out in people. He has that talent to make other people feel like they have a little bit of “funny” in them and he knows how to bring it out of them.

AP: I want to thank you once again for taking time to talk with me and CincyMusic, we appreciate you!

MB: Thank you, I appreciate you and your interest in my work and I’ll see you out there shooting!

 

Visit Mathieu Bitton’s website: mathieubitton.fr to keep up with his work and be sure to follow him on instagram as well: @candytman

Redemption Song of an O.G.

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MORTAL MAN

REDEMPTION SONG OF AN O.G.

BY: SAMUEL E. GOODE

My path in life got fucked up early in life when my mother married my stepfather. When they got together I felt like I pretty much became an outsider. Things got so bad that I left there and went to live with my grandfather. I think I was six or seven when this all happened. My grandfather had remarried and his second wife was abusive towards me. She was an abuser and I caught a lot of hell and took a lot of unnecessary beatings from her. That part of my life hardened me and shaped me for the streets. When I left my grandfather’s house I went straight from the country to the city. The beatings that I took as a kid toughened me up physically and damaged me mentally. All and all I think I handled things pretty well because it didn’t fuck me up. I know other people that have been abused that simply couldn’t deal with life.

During one of the darkest times in my life I felt like it was pretty much “kill or be killed.” I was just out there. At the time me and three of my best friends were running a crack house and things were running smooth. We did all of our dope in the basement of a house that we had taken over and we would rent the other rooms out, “we had the girls working” and money was flowing. We shut everything down to take a break and chill down in Florida. As we were about to leave a rival that we didn’t even know about moved on us and all hell broke out. They came up to the car shooting at us, glass was flying everywhere. All three of my best friends at the time lost their lives that day. I suffered a bullet wound. Somehow my face was covered in blood so they thought I was dead too. They checked the car for our drugs and our money but it wasn’t there. What really saved my life was an ambulance that was going down the highway. The guys thought it was coming down the street that we were on so they stopped going through the car and sped off.

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I feel guilty for surviving that day and what I went through still haunts me to this day. When you see people that close to you get murdered like that it does something to you. When you’re in the streets it conditions you to seek your own justice. When you add that up with all of the abuse that I took as a kid it primed me for a life of violence and that’s something that I was good at it. When I got out of that car and saw what happened to my friends I went on a rampage. I did things that still hurt me to this day. I did things that I want to talk about and that I need to talk about but whenever I try there’s always something that holds me back. Also I’ve done certain things don’t come with a statute of limitations and I don’t want to share or say things that may lead to me going back to jail.

When I moved to Atlanta it was like I entered a completely different world. This was during the crack era when there were all kinds of drugs hitting the streets so there was a lot of money changing hands. Crack and dope was so heavy in Atlanta that you could take $100 and flip it so fast that it would turn into $100,000 in no time and the faster it came the faster it went. I lived on the west side of Atlanta and at the time I was pretty big and muscular. I mean I grew up on a farm so I was a big, strong kid but I didn’t know shit about the streets. Well as things unfolded I pretty much got tricked into becoming a pimp at this hotel I was working at. I thought I was just working security but the next thing I knew I had about six girls working the streets for me. This was a quick phase in my life that lasted for about two years. I’m an old fashion guy so I didn’t really like exploiting women. At that time in my life I felt like pimping was the only way that I could survive so I did what I felt I had to do to survive. During this whole stretch I had been looking for my brother and as soon as I found him I left all that stuff behind me that same day and never looked back.

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My brother and I were tight so we were glad to be back together but we both worked two or three jobs and felt like we weren’t getting anywhere. One of my jobs was at the Lennox Mall and I met this rich white guy named “John” that wanted to play gangsta’. Meeting him took me down a whole different path in life and most of it wasn’t good. During this time in my life I saw a lot of shit and I did a lot of shit that I still struggle to come to terms with. The people that “John” introduced me to were looking for people that were ruthless and that didn’t ask any questions; that fit me well. When I lived in North Carolina I did a little time here and there for petty crimes that I committed but things I was doing in Atlanta was on a whole different level.

Everybody that “John” introduced me to was rich. There wasn’t a single low-level dude and once I got to that level I hated it. I loved the life but it came with a cost. I’m lucky to be alive today because when you’re in the game there’s only a couple of ways out… prison and more than likely death. When I left Atlanta I was on the run. I stole a truck from a guy that I did yard work for and went back to North Carolina.

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In North Carolina me and my partners went on a robbing spree. We hit gas stations, convenient stores, broke into houses; just taking stuff and selling it. There was a 38 special that I stole from a gas station that I really liked so I kept it. One night I was down at a juke joint; I was drunk and shooting the gun off. Just wilding out and shit. My grandfather was a deputy sheriff so one of my cousins that was at the juke joint called my grandfather and told him to come and get me and try to calm me down. When my grandfather got there he pulled up beside me and told me to give him the gun. I just threw it in the trunk and he shut the door and drove off. Shit caught up with me about the robbing the gas station that I stole the gun. My finger prints were all over everything so I couldn’t deny it. They asked about the gun and I told them I didn’t know shit about it. They asked my grandfather if he’d ever seen me with a gun and he told them about the night at the juke joint when he took the gun from me. My grandfather lost his job and had to do a year in prison. My mother, grandmother and my aunts never talk about it but I still feel like they have animosity towards me about that. We all get along now so I guess that’s all that matters. My grandfather was mad about the shit I did to get the gun but he knew the shit that went down after that was more about the people that didn’t like him getting him out of the way more than anything. This was a town in the south with a black deputy sheriff so they tried to tie him into my shit but were unable to. They charged him with some bogus conspiracy charge but that was it.

When I got out I left North Carolina again and got caught up in some more shit. I was on the run again and went back to North Carolina. I was there for about a week before I got caught. I did about two years and went to my grandfather’s house when I got out. One day my grandfather and I sat and talked out on the porch for about four hours. I remember him telling me that he wanted me to get to know the other side of my family. Two days after that conversation my grandfather passed away. Right after his funeral I packed up and moved to Dayton and I’ve been here ever since. This is exactly where I need to be because this family means everything to me. Thugging, street life - all of that stuff takes a backseat to my family. I want the generations behind me to see me in a better light. I know I could easily go back to Atlanta or wherever and get right back into the life I lived before. I’ve put that so far behind me that I don’t even have that urge. I just like to sit at home and enjoy my family.

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I’ve lost best friends, seen people killed that I knew right in front of my face and it ain’t shit that I can do about it. Nothing. I feel so lucky to be here in Dayton. I feel like if I hadn’t moved back to my grandfather’s house after I got out of the joint that I would be dead or somewhere rotting in prison. The people I have surrounding me now look at me without fear in their eyes. They love me unconditionally. When I was young I didn’t have this type of love. I love my family and I don’t want to disappoint them. This family gave me a brand new start and they are the reason that I’m the man that I am today. It wasn’t an easy transition and early on I got into a little trouble here but nothing compared to the things I did in Atlanta or North Carolina.

Now even with that being said I have no problem going to jail or to hell for defending my family. I wouldn’t even bat an eyebrow. But I try tell them to handle their business the right way so that they don’t feel like they have to go to the streets. One thing is that I know them and I know that they wouldn’t be able to handle the streets. I’m proud that I’ve played a role in keeping my family away from the streets. That’s my purpose now. It’s nothing cool about being in the streets. Jail is not a place you want to be. It’s nothing but concrete and steel. I tell them if they have a problem “come see me, I’ll take care of it.” If you feel that you’re getting upset or that you need to get violent, call me. I can talk them down or get them out of the situation without even going to that next level BUT if we have to “let me handle it.” At this time in my life I’m here for them. No matter how early or late it is, if they need me they can call me. That gives me the strength to keep pushing on and to stay planted. I’m so proud of where I am right now because I know where I could be. I’m at peace. Before I came here and surrounded myself with family I couldn’t even sleep without knowing I had somebody around me that had my back. I wouldn’t trade the peace of mind that I have right now for anything else in the world.

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When it was just me and I felt like I was alone in the world I would do things without even thinking about the consequences. Now I know that if I do things my family will suffer and I don’t want to put them through that. I don’t want to disappoint them. Having people that love and depend on me makes me think two or three times before jumping into action. I never thought I’d be in this role but I love it. Man life is short so get out there and enjoy yourself, leave your mark and live the best life.

I still have nightmares about the things that I’ve seen, done and been through. I’ve done things that I’ll take with me to the grave. I’ve seen shit that’s been burnt into my brain. You can’t unsee the shit that I’ve seen and like I said that shit does something to you. I’ve seen things that people that have been in wars haven’t even seen. I can’t undo the things that I’ve done so I’ve come to terms with them and I let the following generations know that this street life ain’t nothing to fuck with. 

My Marble

Mortal Man DKirkman

MORTAL MAN

MY MARBLE

BY: DAWAYNE KIRKMAN

This is a personal story of mine that I like to share with my friends. Maya Angelou said “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I hope in some small way, it can inspire hope. Dumbo said it best, “The very things that held you down are going to carry you up.” 

I grew up in Elkton, Kentucky (one hour north of Nashville). My dad had a drinking problem (that is probably the most polite term that I can use to describe his situation) and was forced to go to a detox center after many arrests. I was in third or fourth grade during this time. We would go visit my dad after church on Sundays at Western State in Hopkinsville, Kentucky during those weeks of his mandatory stay. When he arrived at the rehab facility, he had been given a marble which represented sobriety. No more drinking allowed if he wanted to keep it. He could keep it in his pocket as long as he did not ever drink alcohol again.

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My mother (my hero), my sister (three years older than me), and I all found those Sunday conversations to be initially awkward, as we were not used to talking to a sober Stanley. But each Sunday, he would be so excited to pull his marble out of his pocket. As the weeks passed, we also got excited to see his beautiful marble. He finished the program and we all went to Bonanza to eat and went to look at new trailers. It was a new beginning!

However, after being away from his siblings and other family for weeks, he naturally wanted to visit them. They loved the fun loving, drinking Stanley. We begged him not to go as we were afraid he would drink, but we were unsuccessful in our plea. Very shortly after arriving at his brother’s house, my dad started drinking beer and it just got worse from there on.

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I remember after he drank several beers he threw the marble across the field, cussing at it and laughing. It seemed like everyone was laughing at it. My mom, sister, and I were devastated though. The next day my dad, in a very hung-over condition, went to that field to look for that marble that he so easily let go of the day before. I could tell his heart was broken from literally throwing it all away. Even as a child, I knew he would not be able to find that marble in that big field, physically or mentally. But, I did find that marble. Maybe not literally, but I did find it and I have carried it for years. 


The last time I saw my dad alive, he was in jail on Christmas in 1995. My dad took his life in 1996 when I was twenty years old and a junior at Berea College. I always promised to carry that marble for my dad. Sometimes we have to carry things for our family who are unable to do so. He was an alcoholic, yet I have never had a beer or been drunk or done illegal drugs. He did not graduate from high school, yet I am finishing up my dissertation at the University of Dayton. He did not work, yet I have been working at Sinclair Community College for almost 16 years. He did not go to church; I have been a Sunday School teacher for more than 18 years.

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I am NOT a better man than my father; I have just been a blessed man. And, it has been an honor to have had the opportunity to carry a marble for a man that I will forever owe for getting me to this earth—even though I hardly knew him. When I get to my heaven, I will hug his neck and say “no apologies needed, Dad” and grab his hand and give him his marble back and declare we made it. 

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I share this story as often as I can to encourage people—to know that they may have to carry the marble for a person that they love.
— Dawayne Kirkman
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Meet drummer: Johnny Radelat

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I sat down with drummer Johnny Radelat before he took the stage with Gary Clark Jr. and the rest of the band at Cincinnati’s Taft Theatre and asked him a few questions.

Aaron Paschal: It’s great seeing you again! I appreciate you taking the time to sit down and talk with me and CincyMusic! 

As a musician and drummer to be specific, do you notice that everything in life has some type of rhythm or pattern to it?

Johnny Radelat: Yes! I can turn on the turn signal in my car and find myself hearing the rhythm of the blinkers. As a drummer there’s always a pop, pop, pop, pop going on in my head so I’m unable to turn that off. Everything has a rhythm to it and sometimes it can be annoying but that’s how I know I love what I do

AP: I read somewhere that you’re a big Sheila E. fan; can you tell us a little bit about that?

JR: There’s so many female drummers and I seem to like all of the good ones! Shelia E. is one of my favorite drummers period and she’s actually going to be on Gary Clark Jr.’s new album when it drops so that’s something to be excited about.

AP: I also heard that Patrick Ewing is one of your favorite NBA players. Patrick Ewing? What’s up with that?

JR: I grew up in New Jersey so I’m a Knick’s fan and when I was coming up Patrick Ewing was the man so yeah, he’s my favorite player.

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AP: How did you come about linking up with Gary Clark Jr. and becoming part of his band?

JR: I knew Gary from playing local gigs in and around Austin, Texas. We all played together so for the first national tour we went on we all got together and had a thirty minute rehearsal and everything just clicked right off the bat. We just have this natural chemistry and we all get along really well which is about 60% of what it takes for any band to make it. And the way Gary approaches performing really keeps us on our toes because we are never really sure where he’s going to take it on any particular song throughout the set. Even though we pretty much perform the same songs night after night and know what’s coming up next on the set list Gary plays what he feels and we all vibe off of the crowd so the songs are played differently from show to show.

AP: You guys have toured all over the place. Is there a certain city or venue that stands out to you?

JR: There are certain cities that I love performing in but as far as the venue and setting I’d have to say that Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver, CO is always great. We just did our first headliner there and it was amazing! That venue just has that natural and spiritual energy there. It’s beyond the musical history of the venue; Red Rocks is just amazing.

AP: I know you stay busy touring with Gary Clark Jr. but what other artists or projects are you involved with when time permits?

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JR: I toured with Robert Finley a couple of months ago and will be doing some on and off the road work with him in the near future. He is a stable artist for Dan Aurbachs (Black Keys) label. Dan produced and co-wrote on his record “Goin’ Platinum”… it’s a great album! Robert Finley has had a very interesting  journey to get where he is now and I encourage you guys to check him out.

AP: If you could jam with any artists “dead or alive” who would you like to sit in with?

JR: “Man!” (Laughs and pauses for a while.)  Well I’d have to play with Booker T. “who is one of my absolute favorites.” His style and stuff he did with Stax Records is one of my favorites of all time. Of course Bob Marley is one of the artists, I love the way he ran his band. This may sound kind of odd to you but I’d also love to jam with Iggy Pop and The Stooges due to their drum arrangements.

AP: Okay, last question; what’s the last album you listened to all the way through and what’s in your current rotation?

JR: Last night I listened to Pink Floyd’s - Animals album all the way through. I’ve also been on a Van Morrison kick lately.

My family is Cuban and now there’s a whole collection of pre 1950’s Cuban music that’s available that I’ve been listening to and soaking in lately. Up until now none of that music was available in digital format so you had to have it on vinyl or cassette.

Harlem River Drive is a rare album that’s nice and I’ve been listening to. It’s by Eddie Palmieri's super group, which was the first to really merge black and Latin styles and musicians.

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I also caught up with Johnny after the concert and asked him what they thought about playing at the Taft Theatre.

JR: We loved the old theatre venue and the very resonant onstage sound. We don’t usually play seated venues so when we started and saw that most of the floor was already standing in the aisles and ready to go it was a pleasant surprise. Very electric crowd for a mid-week show, Cincinnati definitely showed up!

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More about Johnny Radelat

Johnny Radelat is the drummer for Gary Clark Jr., He got his start playing in reggae, R&B, soul, and Funk bands. I first photographed him at afropunk Brooklyn in August of 2017 and later got a chance to meet him and take his portrait after their performance at the inaugural Bourbon and Beyond in Louisville later that same year. If you’re lucky enough to catch a live performance or even watch a YouTube video of Gary Clark Jr. you’ll find it hard to miss Johnny Radelat jamming out on his Gretsch drums and Sabian cymbals!

follow him on instagram: @johnnyradelat

Meet Emerald Sparks

One of the perks about being a photographer is the wide range of people that I get to meet and establish relationships with. In this coming series I will feature a few people that I have met and photographed recently that I think you should know.

Emerald Sparks

Financial Strategist, Public Speaker, Author, and a Spark of energy!

I originally met Emerald at a cover shoot that I did for Ambition Magazine. As a photographer I pick up on people’s energy right away and I noticed that not only did Emerald have a lot of positive energy but that it was contagious! When she contacted me to schedule her session I was excited to work with her and to create and capture images that would accurately represent her and her brand, “which are really one and the same!”

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About Emerald

I solve Misconceptions about money

Emerald has helped everyday people, just like you, become extraordinary money masters by maximize their income to make it do what they wanted it to do. Collectively, she has helped her clients pay off $100,000+ of debt, invest in real estate properties, and purchase $65,000 dream cars.

She got her start at Fortune 500 companies such as Deloitte & Touche’, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Fifth Third Bank, and Northwestern Mutual. She has seen it all in her 12 years in the financial service industry and now helps people live financially healthier lives through personalized curated budgeting and debt repayment strategies.

She’s helped her clients increase their money mindset and start living the life they want to live financially, while eliminating creditor harassing phone calls, sleepless nights, and underwhelming bank accounts. She created her business to help people live financially healthier lives and maximize their income, while living in balance.

Emerald is also an Author!

  • Create Sparks: A Bossed Up Financial Planner to Maximize Your Income
  • Vision. Future. Reality: How to Budget Like a Boss

session notes...

sessions with AP2 are stressful...

During Emerald’s session we talked about our respective businesses, goals, places she’s been and future travel plans and we may have laughed a few times! 

 

Emerald has used the images from her session on her website and social media accounts to create printed and digital promotional material for speaking engagements and media releases.

    engage with emerald!

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    Emerald Sparks

    learn more about Emerald by visiting her online @ emeraldsparks.com

    Connect with Emerald on social media!

    facebook: esparks10

    instagram: @ShzAGem

    twitter: @EmeraldSparksES

    linkedin: Emerald Sparks

    The Perfect Father: Lessons Learned from a Fatherless Fatherhood

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    Mortal Man

    The Perfect Father

    Lessons Learned From a Fatherless Fatherhood

    By: Frank "Buddy" Pitts Jr.

     

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    Untraced

    My childhood consisted of experiences in a lot of different neighborhoods in Dayton, Ohio, from Westwood to Harrison Township to Dayton View…one thing that they all had in common is that my dad wasn’t with me in any of them. Growing up I never realized that he even should’ve been there, I wasn’t naive or oblivious to it, it just wasn’t something that was a big deal. Most of my friends and pretty much all of my cousins grew up without their pops around so it wasn’t the most disheartening thing for me to grow up without having him there. Now every once and a while there would be a moments when I would think like “damn, I wish my dad was here” but i never really made my home in those thoughts, nor was I real emotional about it because I grew up around very, very strong women that took on the workload.

    I never heard my mother say anything bad about my dad. I didn’t get to see my father often and when I did it would only be two or three times out of the year and there were some years that I didn’t see him at all. Those times he may have been in and out of jail or wherever. Even with all of the time gaps in our relationship I thought very highly of my father. I didn’t know a lot about my dad during that time other than he was going through a lot of transitions. There were times in his life where he was a drug dealer and a drug abuser and so of course he went through a phase where he lost his ranks from being at the top of the game to then falling right back down because of the whole crack epidemic that happened in the 80’s. He went through a downward spiral where a lot of things effected his notions on life in general, he was doing crazy things, spending time in and out of jail - he was unpredictable during this time in his life. 

    I remember him picking me up during my childhood and I also remember the days that he didn’t come when he was supposed to, that was our relationship. I didn’t realize it at the time but as I got older and looked back it was like man… “I think he may have been on crack,  shooting up or definitely dibble and dabbling in hard drugs.” At one point my dad would wear a big, fat gold chain and bracelets and have wads of money, “he would always give me money” and we would go places and do stuff and just talk and hangout. As things progressed I noticed that the gold chains and watches were gone, his physique was fading away - he was starting to get a gut, his hair wasn’t always cut. All of this stood out to me because my dad was one of those guys that was ALWAYS spiffy. It didn’t matter where he was going, he always dressed like he was going to church. He wasn’t a pimp “at least I don’t think so” but he always dressed nice and kept his hair on point. I remember being in my twenties and seeing this dude get out the shower and take a pound of regular hand lotion and rub it in his hair; with every stroke it was like a huge wave would form in his hair so by the end of about thirty strokes he’d have a head full of waves that any surfer would be proud of!

    When I was young I saw that clean cut, nice looking version of my father. I would see him in three piece suits and really nice jeans. One thing my dad used to do, that would drive me crazy and I would always laugh at him, is he would always press and crease his jeans. I’m sure they could’ve easily stood up on their own. I remember my dad being like that, that clean cut creased jeans and all but when I look back I recognize that there was a declining difference in him. The gold chains had been replaced with an urgency for things, an urgency to do stuff and fast talk and even though I noticed these changes in him at the time I didn’t really pick up on what was really going on with him. He started having sudden mood changes and a quick temper. He never went off on me but I would see him act this way. 

    My dad knew a lot of people and he had a lot of women so anytime I was with him it would kind of be like we were on an adventure. We would go over a bunch of people’s houses, I would meet a lot of other kids and people in general from these outings. I remember going over one lady’s house, she was FINE… and I remember my dad bragging about her in the car on the way to her house. When we got there it was not what I expected at all. The house was messy and there were roaches everywhere! I remember thinking “why are we over here with this lady with all of these roaches?” So yeah, like I said it was an adventure pretty much every time we spent time together. At that point I noticed the decline and that there was something different about my dad. Honestly with the huge gaps in time that I actually got to spend time with him I didn’t see the gradual changes… they were drastic. So when I would see him it would be like a three piece suit today, then jeans and a beater the next time. 

    Though my mother never talked bad or down about my dad or kept my sister and I away from him she would never let us go see him when he was in jail. We didn’t talk to him on the phone or anything like that when he was locked up so I never saw him in that environment. When I was older I saw pictures of him when he was in jail and as I grew old enough to talk to him on my own I would reach out to him however I could, he would also send letters and hand drawn cards that were nothing short of masterpieces. He was in and out of jail a lot, most of the time for petty things. 

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    Community Gardens

    Don’t get me wrong this is no where near meant to be a sad story, it just is what it what it is. I have a lot of friends that were in similar situations in terms of “insert reason here” their dad wasn’t there, so with it being such a common thing, it felt “normal.” I’m grateful that I was raised with a heavily spiritual background, with an active church family, a strong support system and definitely for having a really strong mother. I’m sure there were plenty of time where we went without but we didn’t know it – we didn’t realize it.  My childhood experience was actually quite amazing, especially looking back on it now. My mother remarried when I was in the third or fourth grade. Her husband, Jeff is an awesome dude. His teaching style was a bit hard and unorthodox but I learned a lot of things from him, he played one of the biggest roles in teaching me how to be a man. What’s interesting about it, and by the way I love Jeff to this day - he was a hard-nosed cat growing up, we never really “got along” that well but I learned so much from him and I still thank him to this day. It’s like “if you weren’t there I really don’t know how I would have turned out.” I think his presence helped me deal with my actual father a lot better than I otherwise would have. Jeff helped me mature and the lessons that I took from him have stuck with me to this day and though I would never call Jeff “dad” because I had too much respect for my pops, he definitely stepped in and stepped up in BIG way!

    I’m very grateful that I had a lot of great men around me. With the inclusion of my stepdad, I had a host of “real men” in my corner. By real men, I mean that old school type of man that was hard-nosed and work hard for every dollar. They made sure that I learned the basics of being a man as far as how to change a tire and check the oil on a car, basic things that most boys learn from simply being around their dads. Things like being a leader, being the voice of the household, knowing how to do certain things around the house… those are the type of men that I grew up around and I’m so thankful for that. At the church, Pastor Senior, his son  and the youth pastor were God gifted examples for me, along with some of my boys’ pops who would play basketball with us, cut our hair and let us wild out in the garage to MJ (Michael Jackson.) Growing up I played all type of sports and some of the coaches were very impactful on me so I was fortunate to have a culmination of really good men in my life. 

    I have my mom to thank for placing me in position to stay grounded and sustaining a solid foundation. We stayed at church, like literally I swear we lived there… ok just kidding no we didn’t but I’m not sure if there’s a difference. As I started to become more aware of the importance of having a spiritual foundation I believe God worked his hand at placing specific people in my life. My mentor at that time and for a long while after that was one of those people - his name was Dion, he was our youth pastor. Dion, following God’s lead and strong emphasis on study showed me a way of life that has proven to be impactful time and time again. He was the gateway to catapulting my spiritual maturation. He also was really influential in showing me what unconditional love looks like and the priority that we need to place around it. When I have children or even when I mentor kids, one of the things that I always think about is how to just genuinely show them love, no matter the circumstance, background, competency level, social status…etc… One thing that I believe men don’t realize, mostly because we are always trying to be so hardcore, is that we have a hard time having intimate conversations. I am for sure guilty of it and furthermore expressing the depth of my emotions. For a long time I would not let my nephew cry without getting on him about it. Now he rarely shows any emotions and with me being the most consistent man in his life you would think that he would be able to show me some type of love but he guards those emotions, that softer side and he’s weird about showing it. 

    All of the men that I had in my life have helped shape my viewpoint on how I see my dad and also why I say that I grew up with somewhat of a perfect fatherhood. Even with all of the challenges my mother endured she never claimed that she could replace a man. She just did what she had to do. One thing that she definitely preached was that God is all of our fathers and he will always be there for us. That’s something that’s had a huge impact on my life when it comes to my views on fatherhood and my father in specific. It allows me to accept him for who he is and to look at all of the positive things that he has done “along with his mistakes” as lessons. 

    I didn’t have my first drink of alcohol until I was 25. The primary reason that I avoided drinking is because my father dealt with alcoholism for as long as I knew him even up until the time of his death. My dad was a different type of character. I learned that he wasn’t the great guy that I pictured him to be when I was a child. I saw him do so many things when he was under the influence of alcohol. There’s one specific time that I remember so vividly. I was with him in Columbus where he lived and we were about to leave my grandmother’s house. He told me to go sit in the truck. He went back to the house and all of a sudden I heard a lot of arguing and commotion. My dad was arguing with his girlfriend. She wouldn’t give him the keys because she didn’t want him to drive while he was under the influence. I remember her telling him “you have your son with you!” This was the first time that I realized that something was going on with my dad and I remember thinking he was crazy. “My mother nor anyone else that I was around drank so I didn’t know what it was like to be around someone that was actually drunk.” My dad and his girlfriend argued for awhile and then I saw him come outside. Even though I was sitting in the truck I could still see and hear everything that was going on. My dad was banging on the door and demanding his keys. I could see the rage on his face. All of a sudden he ran around to the front of the house and came back with a knife and started stabbing at the door. I watched him and tried to process exactly what was happening. I didn’t realize how crazy all of this really was until I got older.

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    Activated Lenses

    When I was old enough to drive my mother would let me go see my dad. At that particular time in my life I was committed to not being anything like my dad. I remember saying “if I ever have kids I’m going to be in their lives. If I say that I’m a great man I’m going to be a great man and my actions will reflect that.” So I committed to Christ and started worshipping and praying - it was my whole life. So I was really trying to be the best person that I knew how to be. I stopped hanging out with the wrong people and avoided anything that I felt mirrored some of the bad things that I knew my dad did in his life.

    Some of my best friends at that time sold and smoked weed and did other things that I felt was wrong. Even though they were my boys I felt the need to distance myself from them. I was the guy that would tell them that those things weren’t for me and would challenge them to stop. Looking back I can see where my mindset could have been a little immature at the time. I never considered why they may have felt led to do some of the things that they were doing. One of my best friends had a really rough childhood and was pretty much on his own when he was 14 or 15 years old. I can’t imagine what I would have done if I had to try to figure out how to pay the rent, keep the lights on and keep food on the table at the age of 15. Those were thing that I just didn’t have to think about so I was probably a little hard on my friends at that time but I did stay away from the trouble that goes along with that type of lifestyle.

    There was a time where I started having a different perspective on what a father figure, dad, mentor, role model or coach should look like. I don’t know if I intentionally thought about it or not but it was something that was building in my sub-conscience and I knew at that point that I had to take ownership over my relationship with my father. I understood that for whatever reason he was unable to do it so I took on that responsibility. The spirituality that my mother instilled in me had a lot to do with that. I remember thinking that no matter what goes on in life “you only got one pops!” He’s the actual person that gave me life to be here so I was determined that I wasn’t going to leave this earth without getting to know who he was or at least trying to. That’s when my curiosity really hit and I began to question things like; “why do I act like this when certain things happen? Why do I look this way? Why does my hair always curl up when it grows a certain length?” I wanted to know everything about him.

    I wanted to know what my dad was like as a kid, what type of father was he to my older sister? “She’s seven years older than me so I thought that he was around more.” I learned that he wasn’t really a part of her life either. My mother along with the support system that I grew up around made me so strong. Now that I’m thinking about it there’s times that my father would tell me things that he said or did that hurt my mother and how easy it was for me to be like “oh, okay I forgive you.” Not that it was up to me to forgive him but to me it was things that happened in the past, nothing could be done to change his actions and more importantly it wasn’t for me to cast judgement. Obviously he did some things that effected me but I just dealt with them and moved on.

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    Late sophomore year going into my junior year of high school I struggled with trying to maintain my virginity. I had girlfriends and I talked to girls ALL of the time. I had all type of girls throughout high school so that sexual temptation was always there. I felt like I was “The Man” but deep inside I also felt like I was doing something wrong. I wanted to entertain all of these women and I embraced the challenge of getting them. I wasn’t trying to compete with other guys so it was more like if I want this girl I’m going to get her. If she seemed unapproachable or seemed like she was all of that - I wanted her. If she was quiet and pretty I wanted her. I was a trip! I got to this point where I was trying to be this Godly person and started realizing different things about myself and started to question why. “Is being this girl crazy and horny all of the time something that all boys go through or is it just me?” I struggled with that for a while.

    Every time I was with my dad he was always with a different woman. There was never a time that I can remember being with my dad where he did not stop to visit a woman. It wasn’t until I got in my early twenties that I saw him with the same woman for a long amount of time. Even then we stopped to see another women. So the whole womanizing thing is something that has always been a lingering wonder.

    One night I had this dream that was crazy. I fell asleep on the floor and in my dream I couldn’t wake up. I felt like I could control what was happening in the dream but I really couldn’t. In the dream I was lying on the floor and all of a sudden a silhouette of a bunch of rats started crawling all over my body, “I’ve always had a phobia about swarms of things, especially small things and I hate rodents!” so I was going crazy in the dream but I couldn’t wake up. A silhouette of a man in a long trench coat walked in and all of the rats scattered. This man exuded power, his coat was swinging back and forth as he walked and he had on a black brimmed hat. His presence changed the whole atmosphere. When I woke up I was just stuck. I’ve always been a deep thinker. I like to study and do research so I immediately looked up what swarms of rats in dreams meant, I tried to process all of the crazy things that took place in my dream and I equate them to all of the struggles that I was going through during that period of my life. Trying to maintain my virginity, trying to avoid making the same mistakes that my dad made and trying avoid becoming a womanizer. I realized that I was doing some of those very things. I felt like that dream was confirmation that yeah… “you are on your way to walking down that same path as your father.” I know that the man in my dream was my pops. That dream showed me that I have a lot of my father in me. 

    From that point on I calmed down and controlled myself. I paid attention to the amount of girls that I talked to at one time. I got super picky about the girls that I talked to. I did eventually lose my virginity and it really became a struggle at that point. I didn’t want to be like my dad when it came to women. Any girl that I was intimate with was someone that I felt a connection with so it was never just a physical thing. One thing that I definitely admired about my pops was his swag! His normal everyday talk and his persona was something that most women seemed to flock to. It was natural for him so it wasn’t something that he was trying to do. It was just him being him. My wife says that I’m the same way even though I don't think I am nor do I try to. That time period taught me that even though I may be tempted to - womanizing isn’t something that was for me. 

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    Wildflowers 

    I wanted to take control over my relationship with my dad and it turned out to be a beautiful thing and one of the best decisions I have made in my life. I didn’t like everything that happened while we were building our relationship. My dad was a pill popper, still maintained a cocaine diet and was definitely an alcoholic. My dad drank all day every day. My dad would get drunk and he would talk about my mom. He would express his regrets and be really remorseful about the way things went between them. Saying things like, “man, I wish I could get your mom back, I wish we were all together as a family” and things like that. 

    My dad would get like superman when he drank. I was impressed at how functional he could be when he was under the influence of alcohol and all of the other substances he would indulge in. It hurt to see my pops like this but over time I grew somewhat numb to it. I would feel it but I wouldn’t deal with things as they happened. I would push these feelings to the side and deal with any emotional issues I had later. There would be times when we developed this routine of me calming him down like; “look pops, it’s okay… calm down.” After a while I would be hard on him and stop him from talking about his lifestyle and regrets. I would sternly tell him “no need to talk about this or that, let’s move on to something else.” I would literally be that strict and hard with him. I talked to my mentors about how I should handle things when he got like that and they helped me realize that I should just let him vent and get those issues off of his chest. That was a huge shift in our relationship because me allowing him to just talk his way through things and express himself allowed me to become an outlet for him. That did a lot for him and for our relationship. It was funny because it almost seemed like our roles reversed and I was the father and he was the son. That revealed some of the void that I have concerning a father/son relationship.

    I mentioned the men that I was around in the early stages of my life and how they showed me love. It still hurt that the man that I needed and wanted the most love from when I was growing up wasn’t there to give it to me on a consistent basis and that created a void. When we did get closer I was the one that had to give and show love as opposed to receiving it so that caused me to harden up and it’s difficult for me to show any emotions in sad or touching moments. I don’t know if that stems directly from the issues I have surrounding my father but I’m sure it’s relative.  

    A huge amount of understanding came through in these conversations with my dad. The biggest thing that I got was just genuine appreciation for having the opportunity to nurture our relationship going forward. I understood that there was no way to go back in time and change the first 18 years of my life but what I could do for as long as we both are here is to make the best of things. So I started appreciating our phone calls and time together more. We would just sit and talk for hours and hours. Even when he’d get drunk and start doing crazy things, “which is when he’d really start telling it all” I would just sit back and appreciate those times. He’d go on as if he was preaching a sermon, and I’m the say way now when I drink a little too much. I can preach, not like a pastor but I talk a lot and it will be in depth. The conversations may be spiritual, they may be emotional and I don’t know if it’s because of a trait passed down to me from my father but I definitely do it just as he would.

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    I think my dad wanted me to know that he realized that all of the things that he did that caused him to be absent in my life, along with the bad things that he did to my mother was a huge mistake. I don’t think my dad was looking for my forgiveness but I think it hurt him to realize that I turned out okay without him being around. I think he had those confessional type of conversations with me in an attempt to forgive himself. I also think that I was a constant reminder to him on what he missed out on. That I was his son and I was really right there in his presence talking to him. 

    Some of the things that he revealed to me were shocking. I wish that I would have taken time to really cherish those conversations because I remember sometimes thinking, “okay - he’s getting drunk and he’s about to go to sleep. I’m about to get out the house and go kick it!” I was young so I wasn’t mature enough to stay focused and cherish all of that time with him. I did enjoy spending time and talking to my pops but at the same time the conversations would get long winded and at that age I would want to go hoop or go talk to some girls, the typical things that teenagers would want to do. I look back and wish that I would have just cherished every second with him.

    I went to college at Urbana which was roughly 30 - 45 minutes or so away from my pop’s house in Columbus. I would go visit him quite a bit. My step-dad has this thing for finding and buying used cars. To this day I can go over my mom’s house and he’ll be there looking at cars on the computer. While I was in college he found me a car that was a beater but it was great on gas. One day I was at my dad’s house and he was like “let me get that car from you.”  I had been working and saving money so we went out and bought a Buick Roadmaster. I kept the Roadmaster and gave my dad the beater. One day I needed to drive the beater and my dad still needed to take care of the insurance and all of that stuff. Well my dad got in a wreck that same weekend and the Roadmaster got totaled. He didn’t file any type of claim or get any money back from it so the money that I spent on it was gone. I was pissed too because the car was nice! It was a green Buick Roadmaster that I called the Green Machine. It was clean, with all digital displays, nice interior and no dents or scratches. 

    I played football at Urbana so during the offseason me and some of my teammates were in Columbus pretty much all of the time. We would go out and kick it and no matter what time we hit my dad’s spot he would always cook us these big meals for us. I can remember coming in at 3 o’clock in the morning and he’d start cooking us steak and baked potatoes, all of these big meals. I’d tell him that he didn’t have to do all of that but that was just the way he was. That was his thing.

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    Jump!

    At this time I was intentional about going to Columbus to spend time and build my relationship with my dad. Outside of everything else that I would do once I got there spending time with my pops was my top priority. That continued even after I had left Urbana. I would go to Columbus quite a bit. I would spend a couple of days and up to a week there just hanging out with him. Sometimes I would take my nieces and nephews with me and through that he was able to spend time with his grandkids and also mend his relationship with my sister. At that time neither of my sisters were really talking to him and that made me upset. I encouraged them to get over it, nothing about the past could be changed. My oldest sister that I grew up with would make me mad to the point that I would cuss her out. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t want him in her life. I have another sister “by a different mother” that’s the same age as me that had a lot of resentment towards my dad. My father would try to build a relationship with her and would often tell me how frustrated he would get by her rejections. I had to explain to him that he hadn’t been there for her when she felt she needed him and that he had to be patient and keep trying. I told him the only thing that he could do is tell her and show her that he loves her. It was rough on me to hear the frustrations from both my dad and my sisters.

    I prayed for God to allow me to have a good relationship with my dad. To provide a way for us to be able to continue to see each other. I wanted my dad to love me and to miss me if he went an extended amount of time without seeing or hearing from me. Our relationship wasn’t perfect but it was developing. That’s when he got sick and it was directly related to his habits. My dad was always a worker and never shied away from hard work. He had nerve damage in his back that required surgery. Before this happened he was starting to clean up his life and was cutting out some of his bad habits. The surgery slowed him but he still couldn’t sit still. He would take pain medication and go out and work and he was still drinking. He went back to the hospital and this time he almost died. He had so much in his system with the pain medications along with the drugs and alcohol. He was in a place where it was pretty much fight or flight. That was a crazy few weeks for me because while all of this was going on I was both working and going to school full-time. I had to juggle taking time off from work and making up assignments so that I could be there with my dad. It was a very trying time that happened right when things seemed to be trending up for my dad, he was spending time and developing a relationship with his grandkids, cleaning up his life and things were just going good.

    The year after all of this happened was different. He physically wasn’t able to do some of the things that were part of his normal everyday life. He would still try to do things and we would tell him to sit down and take care of himself. He went back to the hospital for the same thing almost a year later but this time he had more drugs in his system, hard drugs - not just the prescribed medication, “ he had been warned the year prior that if he continued to drink it could be fatal” this time he didn’t make it. Just like the first time it was a crazy time but it was less emotional on me this time. I took on a weird vibe that’s hard for me to describe. I felt like I had to handle everything. I became “the voice” on my dad’s side of the family. My dad left me as the beneficiary for everything, I was left to make all of the decisions and his brothers and sisters had a rough time accepting that. It was a time that I had to speak up and be a man. This time period made me thankful for all of the men that helped shape my life and for having a strong mother that guided me along the way.

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    Things that I deal with now as far as my dad no longer being here is missing the fact that I can’t continue building on the relationship that we started. Looking back at the years that we missed out on during my childhood and wishing things had been different. My dad was close to a lot of people so I have a goal to get in touch with as many of them as I can so that I can get to know more about my dad from their point of view.

    When I worked at De’Lish there was a guy that came in a few times looking for me. When we finally met he told me that he was one of my dad’s friends. He knew so much about my dad and told me some of the things that they used to do. That made me do my own research and I found out that he has more friends like that out there with similar stories. I also have a couple of cousins that grew up around my dad and actually got to spend more time with him than I did as a kid so it’s nice to hear them share their memories of my dad. It’s a fine line though and I have to place limits on it because sometimes it becomes overwhelming. I find myself getting emotional and teary-eyed about things that I didn’t before. Even talking about him now I can feel myself getting emotional.

    Two things that I deal with since my dad passed seven years ago is that other than my wife I don’t have that one person that I can go to and talk to about anything. I did have a cousin “Willie” that I looked up to like a big brother but he passed away not that long ago so two of the men that I was the closest to are gone. I have a wife now and it’s been rough not to have them to lean on when I have questions or need guidance. Even if they didn’t tell me the right things; just to have them there as a sounding board. That’s something that I deal with more often than I realize. The other thing is that I don’t know as much about my dad as I thought I did. I hear stories from my cousins and other people that spark my curiosities about him even more.

    I missed my dad and broke down when I graduated. We had talked about it so much. He was looking forward to it just as much as I was and would always say he was going to be there, so I felt it that day, it hurt. Then my wedding I was like “man neither my pops or Willie are here.” It sucks that my wife never got the opportunity to meet and know my dad, she would’ve loved him and he for sure would’ve loved her and probably even tried to steal her from me, even though that battle would’ve resulted in a lost! Ironically my wife’s dad has a lot of the same characteristics as mine minus the habits. We have a very natural relationship that doesn’t require any force, I’m thankful for that and I’m sure, the universe worked her hand at that. 

    There has never been a lack of fatherhood for me. Had things been different or I traveled a different path I would not have had the perfect experience with fatherhood as I did. The men that helped shaped me all played a role in my development and have enabled me to say that I had the perfect experience with Fatherhood. I live my life trying to be a good person. I may not always right but my intentions are always good.

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    Frank "Buddy" Pitts Jr.

    The Perfect Father

    Lessons Learned From a Fatherless Fatherhood

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    Identity Crisis

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    Mortal Man

    Identity Crisis

    By: Milton A. Wilkes

    I grew up in Toledo, OH - my mother was a drug addict, or should I say is a drug addict. For at least the last 32 years she’s been on drugs. That’s all that I have ever known her to be, I’ve never known her to be sober. I was raised by my grandmothers’ sister who had four sons of her own before I came along.

    Even though I was raised by my family I still had abandonment issues. Although she raised me from an infant, a child naturally desires to be taken care of by its mother. It’s just like an animal – if you take them out of their natural habitat and you put them somewhere else with the same type of animals they are still going to feel like they don’t fit in or belong there because it is not where they are from. 

    There have been a lot of events that have happened in my life that has served as an incubator for my abandonment issues. When I was three, my sister “who is three years older than me” and I went to spend some time with my mother and she disappeared for the whole weekend. My sister was worried and didn’t know what to do. My clothes were all dirty and messed up so my sister put me in one of her dresses and we walked up and down one of the main streets of Toledo looking for my mother. That right there hurt. Even though I don’t remember that as vividly as my sister does; to hear how that effected both of us... it does something to you.

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    “There are times
    In all of our lives
    When we feel as though
    No one truly knows us.”

    A big hurdle to get over is being okay with someone that does not want to take responsibility for their actions. You have to be okay without receiving an apology, without getting the closure that you want and need. But you can’t hold on to that and say that you need those things to happen so that you can move on with life because life is going to move on without you if you don’t let go.

    When I talked to my mother I’d often find myself drifting into a childlike mentality. Fantasizing like, “okay mommy, things are going to change and you’re going to get your life together.” It took me realizing that drug abuse is actually a disease for me to understand why I couldn’t get closure and why I may never get that “I’m sorry” from her. She was actually looking out for my siblings’ and I best interest by giving us up to other family members to raise. My sister and my brother were raised by my grandmother and our younger brother was adopted outside of the family. Even though I was raised along with other kids I still didn’t have the connectivity I could have had with my own siblings. As a child I could not understand why things were the way they were, in the long run it caused me to fall into some extremely risky circumstances.

    I became promiscuous, I had issues with low self-esteem and was suicidal. Trying to find yourself and your identity is hard when you don’t know how to look at yourself in the mirror. The reason that I say that is because my father had a whole other family on the side. For the most part my dad was in my life but I never knew any of my siblings. I did not meet them siblings until I was 21. When I met them they knew nothing about me either - that hurt. My response was “wow! I wasn’t worthy enough for you to tell my siblings that I existed?” That caused me to resent my father. However my father has been great about having dialogue and attempting to get closure. He’s given his point of view on that period of our lives, not trying to defend himself or say that what he did was right but just having those conversations so that we can move forward.

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    I have two kids of my own, (four and eight years old) and I vowed that I would never put them through any of the things that I have gone through in life because it wasn’t fair and caused me much pain. Therapy helped me with recovering from various events in my life. I don’t think that you ever really get over events as traumatic as what I’ve gone through – you just learn how to deal with them and how to manage them better.

    The things that I’ve been through have also empowered me to try to help other people. I’m back in school studying to be a mental therapist and I’m also in the midst of becoming licensed as a chemical dependency counselor. They say most chemical dependency counselors have either been on drugs or have been directly impacted by drug abuse. I’m also becoming certified as a life coach. I believe that it’s very important to have an outlet, someone to talk to “especially as black men” because we don’t feel comfortable enough to show those vulnerable places. We if you don’t have anyone or anywhere to go to; which causes us to have deviant behaviors such as drug abuse, gang activity, depravity and promiscuity. Those things aren’t normal so we have to find what the root cause is in order to figure things out and progress.

    I believe I struggled with loving myself because my family was not one of those families that openly exhibited love. We didn’t hear “I love you” or show much affection to one another on a regular basis. So in relationships it’s been hard for me to express love in the traditional sense that most people expect or are used to. I try to show love but there are times where I feel like I didn’t know how to. I didn’t have my mother around to nurture and display that motherly love so there’s no example for me to go by. I try to overcompensate that when it comes to my kids because I want them to feel and know that they are loved. 

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    Having high expectations of people can leave you very disappointed because most of those expectations go unfulfilled. I mentioned earlier that I was raised in a house with four other boys who were my cousins. Being that we were all raised together under the same roof I viewed them as brothers. So to hear them say “you’re not my brother” stung really bad. It’s like “wait a minute, we’ve been through so many things together, you know everything that I’m going through so for you to say that… how dare you”- it hurt really bad.  

    Coming together with all of my siblings from both my mother’s and my father’s side gives me a sense of wholeness. In my opinion I had a non-ideal childhood but I intentionally forge a bond with my siblings. I have gained a relationship with my siblings where I feel free to talk to them about anything. I feel like that’s what most people want, an opportunity to talk without being ostracized, but feeling unconditional love.  

    I teach my kids to stand up for one each other. If someone comes after one of you they’re coming after both of you. I want them to have that connection. I want them to have what I didn’t have in my childhood. That’s important to me.

    It doesn’t feel good but I think about if I had stayed with my mother, I probably would have lived under far worse conditions with a whole boatload of other issues versus going and staying with my aunt, who sent me great schools, instilled life lessons and showed me how to take care of business. But, growing up with unresolved of issues that I was unaware of until later in life created issues that later were harder to deal with. Which one would I have chosen if it was up to me? That’s a hard question but in my heart I know that staying with my aunt was best for me.

    My faith has played a huge part in being able to move forward. As a kid I was in church all of the time. That’s where I’ve always found peace. I’ve also been able to find my inner solace through music. I sing. I write music. Music has been my outlet- my way of gaining freedom from all of my inner feelings. 

    Music takes me away – it heals me.

    Thank you,

    Milton A Wilkes

     

     
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    Milton A. Wilkes

    Identity Crisis

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    A Name I'll Never Forget

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    Mortal Man

    A Name I'll Never Forget

    By: Jason Doherty

    It was the summer of 1996 and me and two of my buddies decided to head out to Brookville Lake to go to a party on another friend's houseboat. When we got there, we had to take a shuttle boat over to the houseboat. Once we got onboard and got situated, we drank a few beers and did a little swimming. We were having a good time. My friend that was hosting the party decided to invite one of his friends that lived out on the lake over and he came along with two of his friends.

    They got on the boat and we all introduced ourselves and partied a little bit more. I don't know how much they had to drink before they got onboard the houseboat, but after two hours or so went by me and one of my buddies decided to go around to the back of the boat to hangout with them. We got to the back of the boat and saw one of the guys joking around with a girl and then asked her "are you going to get in?".  I didn't really hear her clear enough to make out what she said, but the guy kept joking around and then he pushed her in the lake. 

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    We were all laughing but after about 30 seconds and she still hadn't came up.  My buddy and I looked at each other and I thought "that's weird". I thought that maybe she swam around to the front or to the other side of the boat. We walked around all sides of the boat and couldn't spot her anywhere. That's when I thought "oh-uh, this isn't good!" I was scared out of my mind and so I jumped in the lake to try to find her. I swam underneath the boat but didn't find her there. My buddy and I dove in close to where she was pushed in. We dove in so deep that we would lose our breath and have to come back up to grasp for air. We did this numerous times trying to find her but the lake was 27 feet deep and the water was so dark that we just couldn't see anything. We were exhausted, so we got back on the boat and heard one of our other friends on the CB radio saying "we have someone overboard!"

    When the diver and police got there the diver wasn't suited up.  It took him about a minute or so to get prepped to dive in. He asked us where was the last place that we saw anything and we pointed in the direction of the last place that we saw bubbles come up from in the water. He dropped a line and dove in. The diver went in and found her immediately. He brought her up and laid her on the back of the boat. The policeman told me, my buddy and the guy that pushed her into the lake to go to one side of the boat and kept us separated from everyone else that was on the boat. I looked across the boat and saw that the girl was completely gray and that they were trying to revive her. The police told us to stop looking that way and to move to the front of the boat. 

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    I always wonder what she would have became in life had she not died that night...

    At the time, I was relieved that they found her but I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know if she was alive or not. They put us on the shuttle boat and as we went around the houseboat, I saw that they were putting her in a body bag. I knew right then that... my heart it just went straight to my gut. They couldn't revive her. She was dead.

    She passed away and it was probably the worst nightmare I could have ever experienced. Her name was Jessica - I'll never forget her name. I always wonder what she would have became in life had she not died that night... maybe she would have became a doctor, a loving mother and wife. I always wonder about that.

    We all had to go to the police station and give reports. We sat in the police station for eight to nine hours before we were even eligible to get bailed out. We had to got to court and that's when I learned that Jessica didn't know how to swim. That was really scary to me; learning that she didn't know how to swim but still went out drinking on a boat. I was held in jail for underage drinking. I called my mom and told her what happened and she said, "that's horrible." I told her my charges and she said, "you're 18 now, bail yourself out." It just so happened that another friend of ours had drove out to Brookville to party with us. He came as everything was going down, so he never made it to the houseboat. His dad bailed me out that night, otherwise I would have sat in jail until the arraignment. I was put on unmonitored probation.

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    The guy that pushed Jessica in the lake was charged with involuntary manslaughter and spent some time in jail. He didn't know that she couldn't swim and he tried all that he could to help us find her in the lake that night. There was no parental supervision at all that night, so the family that owned the houseboat was sued. We were just a few kids out trying to have a good time. I was 18 years old when this happened and later I learned that Jessica was only 17. 

    I turned to drugs pretty hard to help me cope and one day I woke up and said, "I can't do this anymore." I had to get my shit together. Jessica's death was a life lesson for me. I only knew Jessica for two hours before she was gone forever. It's crazy how things can be all good one minute and then... 

    It's something that I'll never forget, even though I think about it all of the time. I've never talked about it. I'm glad that I have this opportunity, this outlet to share it. I definitely feel a little better now that I've talked about it.

    I still talk to my buddy that dove into the lake with me but we never talk about what happened that night. Every time I've tried talking about it with him, he shuts me down and tells me that he can't do it. I have no idea how it weighs on him, how he's dealing with it or if he's dealing with it at all.

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    I will always remember Jessica's name. Twenty years after that night it's still embedded in my brain. Even though I didn't push her in the lake I still feel guilty. I always wish I would have been able to find her - been able to save her. 

    I still have nightmares about what happened that night. When they found her , I felt a sense of relief.  Then I saw her and saw how gray she was, it was almost like death was staring right at me. That right there is when I knew that if I don't swim "in life", I'm going to sink. I've been swimming every since. 

    It took me almost 18 years to get back on a boat. Even though, I know how to swim I still wore a life jacket. To this day I still don't really like being out on boats a whole lot.

     
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    Jason Doherty

    A Name I'll Never Forget

    Husband + Son + Drummer

    facebook: Jason Doherty

    Gild The Lilly Band Page

    Hit Harder

    Zack Cover

    Mortal Man

    Hit Harder

    By: Zack Sliver

    I was in Louisville, KY for my brother's bachelor party. We were at a bar and we split into two different groups. I was walking down the street and I noticed a woman being pulled and screamed at by two guys. Truthfully I knew if I kept walking away something bad would happen to this lady -  I also knew that if I intervened something bad was likely to happen to me, I still chose to intervene.

    When I took up for the lady the guys started screaming and throwing punches at me. I know how to fight from being in the marines but I wasn't looking for a fight. I just wanted to help the the woman in distress. I pushed them off of me and said; "hey, I'm not trying to fight".  They started hitting me in the side of the head and I tried to protect myself and just get away.

    Four more guys ran over and now there were six guys beating on me. The funny thing is that at first I thought they were going to help me. I  went down on the ground at one point and one of the guys picked me up and started choking me. Another guy was hitting me in the face. It was a benchmark moment in my life, my vision was going in and out. I was like, "Is this really how I die? What are people going to think about me when I'm gone? What are people going to say when they find out I died? Will they think I just died in a fight in Louisville? Will they know that I stood up for somebody and that I was trying to do the right thing in the face of evil?"

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    I took off running - some random guy was chasing me. He was trying to help me but I wasn't sure so I pushed him away. I fell, got up and started crawling away but was  grabbed by the back of my hair and hit in the side of the head, caving my skull in. My equilibrium was gone. I didn't recognize that until I was running full speed down the street. I remember thinking, "why can't I keep my balance ?" I was covered in blood and fell down. The guy that tried to help me ran up to me but I wasn't sure who he was or what he was trying to do so I tried to fight him. He said, "no I'm trying to help you!" He grabbed my phone and the lady that I tried to help scooped up my glasses and handed them to me. I remember just lying there bleeding.

    I called my brother and told him that I needed him. He came over and a police officer called an ambulance. I refused to take  an ambulance because of the price so my friends Josh Boone and Cory DD Miller got me to the hospital. They were in the waiting room while I had my cat scan and stayed and kept me company until I was transferred to the next hospital. The whole group met up at the University of Louisville Hospital to support me and make sure that I made it through surgery okay.

    The nurses and doctors didn't believe what happened, they thought I was drunk because I was slurring my words. I told them, "No! I only had two beers in four hours, I'm not drunk. My skull is messed up!' They told me to go in the next room and take a nap. I told them that I was sweating, that I didn't feel right and that I didn't think that everything was going to be fine." They continued to tell me that I would be fine after a nap. It took me screaming at the top of my lungs for them to give me a cat scan - that's when they realized that my skull was caved in.

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    I was leaking brain fluids and it was mixing with the air. They finally got the results and took me to the University of Louisville Hospital. I talked to my mom while I was being transported in the ambulance and told her everything. It was just - it was hard. I remember right before going into brain surgery; my brother and my best friend Brett were so jovial they made me feel like everything was going to be  alright. They were joking about one of the doctors working on a patient, (Dr. Potts working on Mr. Himp) they kept laughing about that which made me laugh even harder.

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    Truthfully when I woke up, I felt like a different person. Not in a bad way, not like I didn't know who I was or who anyone else was. I just knew that I was completely going to have a different life than before. I made a choice to help somebody. I feel like if I went into that with adverse intentions, like "oh, I just wanted to look cool in front of this woman" that I wouldn't have made it out. The fact that I tried to do the right thing - and I did do the right thing helped me through.  

    After my surgery I had a lot of complications with the V.A. Hospital. Eleven days went by and they still had not called me like they were supposed to. That's where the struggle came from. I got different doctors but still wasn't getting the treatment or medication that I needed. It's like, "This is not a football injury from ten years ago, I just had brain surgery. I need physical therapy, I need all these things and will you please help me?" They didn't for quite some time. 

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    I had to teach myself how to walk again - my equilibrium wasn't coming back fast enough. I would walk the stairs at my parent's house, I would get up and just shake my head. I'd fall or feel like I was going to. The following four months I literally just watched the X-Files and other shows and slept. I was hospitalized a few times from getting fevers. It was just challenging.

    What's really cool about the entire thing is anytime I've helped somebody I've done it out of the kindness of my heart. I'd never do big inspiring stuff, I'd never do turkey giveaways for anybody just for me to be like, "Oh, I hope if I ever get hurt somebody is going to help me." 

    This girl Jessica Jones started a Gofundme account for me while I was in the hospital.  It raised almost six grand ($5,500) that took care of five months of my bills. I called her about two weeks into the Gofundme campaign, "it's supposed to last about a month" and asked her to stop it. She was like, "What? Why would you do that?" I told her I appreciated it but this is going to get me through four/five months and I feel like in that time I can recover from brain surgery.  At the same time people assume that I had brain surgery a year ago. When I tell them that it's only been roughly six months they're kind of bewildered that i'm not just lounging and trying to heal. 

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    Going back to work was hard. Especially when it's loud. I wait tables and I'm still a little deaf in my left ear. People make a lot of jokes about it. They'll be like, "you're deaf in your left ear and you work in a bar? How can you hear?" They're jerks. I get dizzy often and they say I might get seizures. I still wouldn't trade it for anything. I can only imagine how bad I would feel if I didn't help that lady that night and she ended up hurt or dead while I was somewhere drunk in a bar.

    When the lady handed me my glasses, she kept thanking me. She told me I was so nice and she couldn't believe what happened to me. I remember posting about this online telling people that I was healing. A guy that I was stationed with in Japan messaged me asking "What are you doing for justice?" Justice? I remember thinking; "can I learn how to walk first?" They are never going to find the guys, they're never going to. I’m alright with that. Louisville Police – I’m pretty sure they let them go that night. They almost arrested my friends for telling them to do their jobs. I don't think it's that's hard to do your job. I've had a badge and a gun before and I did my job. I left the detective a voicemail and sent him pictures of where everything took place. He didn't even call me back. 

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    Even when I was in the ambulance I was thinking about how I was supposed to play a show that Sunday. I remember texting the guy and telling him that I didn't know if I was going to be able to play. I think that's so funny because I thought they were just gonna wrap my head, give me some Tylenol, and I would just gonna go home. All of the doctors and nurses - everyone at the University of Louisville Hospital were phenomenal, they were just amazing. I remember this doctor looking at me and telling me about how they were going to cut me. I was thinking, "Oh! This got serious." I was supposed to start the end of my junior year of college and also begin interning for a judge that Monday. So I was like; "you're telling me that I can't do these things? I can't do the things that make me feel like anything is possible? I can't continue my career? I can't continue these things?" That part of it was demoralizing.

    Learning to walk again was pretty cool. The guy who woke me up in morning looked like Dana Carvey, it could've been the pain meds, but it could've been Dana Carvey. I don't know if he moonlights as a nurse or RN. I might've told him that, which could've made him laugh a bit.

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    If I talked to the people that did this to me I would tell them that they didn't win. I might even thank them, not physically thank them but in a weird way I think it was the best thing that has ever happened to me. I feel like it opened my eyes and gave me a new pair of glasses. I still experience pain from my injuries and I have trouble formulating sentences. Those things aren't going to hold me back from doing the things I need to and want to do. I would just tell them "you didn't win and next time HIT HARDER." Well... maybe I wouldn't tell them to hit harder, "that's a joke from the marine corps.

    I've had people who didn't like me. I've been in fights before and if a person hit the ground, you don't hit them while they were down.  It took six grown men to beat up on one man that stood up for a woman. They kind of gave me a glimpse of what women have to deal with. I have two sisters and tragic things have happened to them. It makes me wonder what women have to deal with on the regular basis? Not just people saying stupid things to them as they walk down the street. To have a man grabbing a woman and nobody on the street says anything but me? I'm not the best man in the world, man of the year - or any of that but I know to not put my hands on a woman.

     

     

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    Zack Sliver

    Hit Harder

    Marine Veteran + Student + Singer & Guitarist of Yuppie

    instagram: @zack_sliver

    facebook: Zack Sliver

    website: theyuppiemusic.com

    band instagram: @theyuppiemusic

    Memories Live...

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    Mortal Man

    Memories Live

    By: Dan Tres Omi

    While I did not have a father, I had a diverse group of elders who made sure I stayed on the path I still continue to travel. They were stern and wise. They gave no quarter. They loved hard and disciplined harder. They were fathers and husbands. They were community leaders and they led by example. They were not perfect and it is their imperfection that made me realize that I could be better than them.

    Upon their transition, I never imagined I would utter those words. However, they told me several times that we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. That we are our ancestors wildest dreams: to be better than what they were on every conceivable level. That idea sounds far fetched. To some, this could even be sacrilege. How could we be better than those before us?

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    Even as a child, I always wanted to be the parent that my Uncle Fe was. I never heard him yell at anyone. If one of us got in trouble, he would plead with us to do right. That always fascinated me. While other adults would yell, cuss, threaten, or provide corporal punishment, Uncle Fe would urge us to do right. Without any abuse, he made us feel guilty for screwing up. He was very encouraging and always explained to me how amazing I was and of my potential to do much better. I never wanted to dissappoint him. He showered all of his children with love and affection. I rarely saw that and was also amazed by him. He lost his battle with cancer and everyone was devastated by it. His standard as a parent has never been forgotten and while I have failed so many times, I shall always endeavor to meet it.

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    Speaking through the voices of the spirits speaking to me, I think back in the day, I absorbed everything like a sponge. Took a plunge into my past to share with my son.
    — Talib Kweli/Reflection Eternal - Memories Live "from the Train of Thought album"

    I met Brother George when I moved to Norfolk, Virginia after being discharged from the Navy. He owned a book store on 35th Street. With a group of men around my age, we started a book/Black History club there. Many of us were members and leaders of local community groups. Brother George and I quickly developed a long relationship as mentor/mentee. My eldest son affectionately called his store “The Black Man's Store,” and always asked when we would return to it. Brother George was my plug for bean pies and he would call me as soon as he got a new shipment in. He knew me before I was married and watched my family grow. As he became older and began cancer treatments due to his exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam, he asked me to take over the store. I was honored but immediately refused. I knew that I could never fill his shoes. I knew that the work he did for our community was one that many hands had to do. When he passed away, a void was left in my heart. Our entire community was rocked by his passing. As a community activist, he made it clear that he was always willing to serve in whatever capacity he could. As community worker, I use his example as a mission statement.

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    I met Baba Varner through my very good friend, Seko. The thing about the entire Varner clan was that they took me and my wife in as family even before we had children. Baba Varner was a life long activist and minister. Over the years, I have met several of his mentees, students, and congregants who he has had a positive impact on. Baba Varner was amazing. He had the best stories of growing up, going to college, and fighting for Civil Rights. He was strong in every way. In every aspect, I learned so much from him. I recall him telling me that he was upset that he did not marry my wife and I. I vowed to let him “marry” us on our 10th anniversary. He passed away before this happened.

    All these men set several standards for me. One of their lessons was in their transition. They made me ask the question: "how do we honor the actions of those who came before us and are no longer here?" How can we do that when they have done so much? I remember both Baba Varner and Brother George telling me: make your community a better place than it was before you inherited it. That is and will always be our marching orders. In this manner, we will honor them and their memories.

    Ase! 

    This is Part Three of Dan Tres Omi’s story. Click the links below to read the others.
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    Dan Tres Omi

    Memories Live...

    Son, Husband, Father, Teacher, Afro Latino B-Boy, Author, Capoeirista, T-shirt Model, Pro-Feminist, Hip Hop Diplomat

     

    Keep up with Danny on social media...

    instagram: @brothereromi

    twitter: @DaTresOmi

    podcast: Where My Killa Tape At soundcloud.com/dantresomi

    medium: @DanTresOmi

     

    Leave comments here to keep the conversation going, to offer words of encouragement or to share your story.

    LORE

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    Mortal Man

    Lore

    by: Ty Greenwood

    Currently, my work centers on toxic Black Masculinity and the negative representation of Black Men in media, television & film and other visual rhetorics. I argue that Black Males are voiceless and invisible, groomed not to ever show their emotions, groomed into a vision of hyper-masculinity heightened by the media, but even more so by their own environment. Therefore, it is time for an INTERVENTION and BLACK REVOLUTION that showcases positive portrayals of Black men that are not damaging to their identity, existence and Black bodies. The associations built around masculinity include: white, powerful, heterosexual, college educated, upper class, strong, tough, aggressive, sexually dominant, ripped body and the list goes on and on. This concept has shaped and molded the way Black men are viewed and the unrealistic standards conjured by white people.

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    The Black male experience today has become one inflicted with fear imposed by the seemingly never ending police killings of Black men. Black men are at risk. The same qualities and values that white people have placed on Black masculinity are the same ones killing them today. Black men can’t breathe, walk down the street, go into a convenience store without being feared, followed and or killed. Black bodies are adding up. The qualities of being aggressive, thugs, criminals, ghetto, uneducated, drug dealers, sexual assaulters, professional athletes, sex symbols, the Black muscular body,  deadbeat fathers and unprofessional, are just few of the commonly publicized descriptions in today’s media and various other forms of rhetoric. Thus, when it comes to the Black performance it is nothing more than a minstrel puppet show that is being composed by white people and sold to white audiences who buy into a false sense of what being a Black man really is. It is time for this to end. How many more Black bodies have to be sacrificed for it to really mean something?

    Black men can no longer be a sacrifice and killed off senselessly and carelessly. Who will protect the innocent Black boy who is walking down the street to the candy store? Who will protect the innocent Black boy who goes to college and must deal with all the white faces that don’t understand him? Who will protect the innocent Black men when the white cops who are suppose to protect them murder them in cold blood and leave their bodies on the street for all to see? WHO WILL PROTECT OUR BLACK MEN? 

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    An excerpt from my short play, “LORE”:

     

    DAD:  So, what color is Sasha’s dress?

    JR.: It’s an African print dress. 

    DAD:  African print? She ain’t African, hell she barely black!

    JR.:  Dad!

    DAD:  What?

    Jr.: turns his back to his dad and approaches the clerk’s desk

    CLERK:  Hi, can I help you?

    JR.:  Yes.  A pick up for Jeffrey Cole Jr. 

    The clerk goes to the back. He comes back with a long dashiki in a gourmet bag. 

     DAD:  What the hell is that?

    JR.:  It’s called a dashiki, dad.

    DAD:  A what? That’s a damn dress!

    CLERK:  The dashiki is a colorful garment for men widely worn in West Africaand other parts of Africa as well.

    DAD:  Sir, I know what a dashiki is, I grew up in the 70’s but this is a damn dress! I’m not paying for that shit! Jr. you’re suppose to wear a suit to prom. A tailored, fitted suit.

    JR.:  Dad it’s not a dress. Just think of it as a long t-shirt. And look it even comes with pants.

    DAD:  A long t-shirt? This is prom not a sleepover. And if that’s what you’re planning I can tell you right now Sasha ain’t gonna give up nothing with you in that shit.  Uh-Uh. Excuse me, sir? Where are your suits?

    CLERK:  We have suits over to your left, but we wouldn’t be able to have it tailored in time for your son’s prom. I’m sorry sir.

    JR.:  Dad would you stop embarrassing me?

    DAD:  Embarrassing you? Jr. you’re embarrassing me! Picking out a damn costume to wear to prom. What the hell is wrong with you?

    JR.:  It’s not a costume, dad, it goes with Sasha's African dress.

    DAD:  Why the hell are you two even wearing this African shit? Ain’t neither of you African. Let me guess, you saw it on tv.

    JR.:  Dad this is in style! They wore these back in your day!

    DAD:  Back in my day men wore suits to proms and formal, son. Hell a tux even. But this shit here, NO!

    JR.:  What is the big deal?

    DAD:  The big deal is that you don’t understand the purpose of tradition. You leave out of the house everyday wearing pants off your ass and clothes too big for even me but tonight of all nights you’re supposed to look like you have some sense. We have family coming over and I am supposed to sit there and just smile while you come down stairs looking like the Prince of Zamunda? I’m not paying for that. I trusted you to come to the store, pick out something sensible, didn’t even give you a price limit because this is your day…

    JR.:  If it’s my day then why are you trying to control everything?

    DAD:  Jr., listen to me, you are going to wear a suit to this prom. We can pick out a dress shirt to go with your black suit at home. And we can find a nice tie.

    JR.:  Dad that’s not want Sasha wants. She wanted us to wear/

    DAD:  I don’t give a damn what she wanted. It’s not happening!

    JR.:  But Dad/

    DAD:  I’m not paying for you to wear some dress to look like a little bitch Jr. If you want it, you pay for it.

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    This is the third and final entry in Ty’s three part series. The others can be read by clicking on the following links:
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    Ty Greenwood

    I Danced With Death

    Writer, Poet, Actor, Director, Teacher, Student… MULTIFACETED

    twitter: @ty_greenwood

    instagram: greenwood26

    facebook: Ty Greenwood

    email: greenwoodet26@gmail.com

    "please be sure to comment below to continue the conversation, offer words of encouragement or to share your story."

    Turning Points

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    Mortal Man

    Turning Points

    Kameron Davis

    Lately I've been trying to understand my purpose and how I would define my life up to this point, wondering "what type of man am I?" When I see the Mortal Man series it helps me realize that men are vulnerable, that I am vulnerable. At this point in my life I pretty much know who I am and who I want to be but at the same time there is that "unknown." There's some things about that that scares me and some things about that that excites me. In some ways I don't want to know everything about myself and what I'm capable of and in some ways I do.

    I think about the generations in my family, especially the elders. Bing Davis is my uncle and he is pretty much the alpha male in our family of many men. He has a lot of wisdom to offer. He is an artist an educator and a strong christian man. Many of us in the younger generations look up to him and use him as our measuring stick. Lately I've been wondering about how vulnerable he feels. We all look at him as this strong individual but I'm sure that he's been through his own share of bullshit in his life and has thought about his own mortality. I wonder what things happened in his life to help mold him... "when did he reach his turning point?"

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    Looking back I realize that I had a naive childhood. I was raised by my mother along with my two older brothers. My father left when I was about two and was out of my life until I reached eight. He got back in our lives then because he wanted us to get to know our sisters. I was the baby brother in our house so I was very close to my mother. My brothers were older so I learned a lot from them, both good and bad - but I wasn't anything like them. I grew up playing video games. I didn't play sports or even think about dating girls until about my senior year of high school. I didn't really blossom or come of age until I got to college. Up until then all of my friends were gamers so I was definitely behind the eight ball. In this phase of my life I didn't know much about love, challenges or life in general.

    One of my brothers told me that I was a late bloomer. That things always take off for me in life but they happen late. He said "you learn all these things super late but you progress in ways that I've never seen. When you hit your stride you hit it HARD."  And when I look back at all of the progressive periods in my life I realize that he is absolutely right.

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    There was a time in my life where I feel like I lost myself. It was five or six years ago and that's when I reached my turning point. I was dating my first college girlfriend - we were together for nearly four years and everything between us seemed to be going great. I felt like I had finally found someone that accepted me for who I was, PokeMon and all! Right when I was about to graduate I found out that she was cheating on me and I didn't know how to process or accept that. I was devastated. My foolish pride caused me to take her back only for her to cheat on me again. This time I became depressed. We tried working things out but never got things back on track. She started dating another guy and I hit a breaking point. One night she went to her new boyfriend's house and for some foolish reason I had to see things for myself. I was outside of his house for a couple of hours. I didn't know what I was going to do but I couldn't make myself leave. I had to get inside so I broke into his house. I wanted to see what was going on with my own eyes so I could stop denying it but I also wanted her to see me so she could see the pain and misery she was causing me. I wanted her to meet her demon.

    They escorted me out of the house. Her boyfriend didn't press charges but I did have a civil order against me which stated that I could not come into contact with her. I realized that I needed help so I saw a therapist. I never told anyone about what was going on with me or that I was depressed. My mother and stepfather found my court documents that I failed to get rid of and confronted me about what happened like; "what were you doing stalking your ex-girlfriend?" That was embarrassing but talking to my stepfather about it helped me. He shared an experience that he had gone through that was somewhat similar so he understood what I was going through. Even though I love my father I love my stepfather as well. I have a connection with my stepfather that I really appreciate. It's almost as if we can communicate and understand how the other is feeling without even speaking a word. He's been there for me and has helped me understand who I am.

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    I realize now that I rarely expressed myself, what I was thinking or what I was going through and that sometimes there are events in your life that change that for you in an instant. I felt as though the men in my family were invincible, but now I am traveling through the discourses that shaped them into the alpha men that they are today.

    Now I choose to do what makes me happy despite what others may think of me. I decided to own my own faults and flaws and to accept who I am as a person. I've had brushes with death and too many chances to take the wrong path in life and into the devil's work.

    I love being an artists and having the ability to conceptualize and understand things.
    — Kameron Davis
     
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    Kameron Davis

    Turning Points

    Person, Cinematographer, Photographer, Editor, Gamer, Creator of the Reflex Series

    website: junebugg.space

    reflex series: reflex

    instagram: junebugg.free

    facebook: Kameron Davis

    "Look alive kid!"

    The Prodigal Son

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    Mortal Man

    The Prodigal Son

    by: Darryll Rice

    The most difficult thing that I have ever had to deal with is my father's death. He was my inspiration, my go-to guy; I won't say he was my God on earth but he was who I looked to for everything. When I lost him in 2002 I was somewhat lost and misguided. To cope I turned to smoking weed, drinking, going out all the time and I really wasn't taking care of myself. I was under a lot of stress and nobody really knew what I was going through because I put on a fake smile and pretended that everything was honky-dory. In reality I was miserable, I was depressed and I was unhappy so I was at my lowest point after my father's death because I had no direction. 

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    Church Hurt

    I use to tell people all of the time that I gave "God a shot twice." In my early childhood I began going to church with a neighbor and enjoyed it until I found out that the pastor was a "money guy." That turned me off and I stopped going to that church. From there I had a family member that started a church, my dad was a Deacon there and I was a Junior Deacon. A year or two went by and I overheard a conversation between my parents and my family member who was also the pastor of the church in which my parents were told that we were no longer welcomed and was being put out of the church. At the time I was 15 years old so that really rocked me. I wasn't supposed to hear that conversation but I did and when my dad talked to me about it I was hurt and confused. I thought that God welcomed everybody so how could they put us out?

    Later on my mother started attending another church and I went along with her. At the time I had cornrows, earrings, wore baggy jeans and Air Force Ones to church. The pastor went to my mother "without saying a word to me" and told her; "don't let your son come in here again with those braids in his hair, earrings in his ears, those jeans on and gym shoes on his feet. So I got kicked out of that church as well. 

    [There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
    — Romans 8:1

    So "Church Hurt" goes deep with me. I meet people all of the time that have experienced some form of Church Hurt of their own. I think too many people put the emphasis on the pastor and the people at the church that they forget that the reason that you go to church is to get closer to God.  Some people tend to look at the pastor as a God and I've never been that way. So with my experience with Church Hurt there was always something in the back of my mind that made me wonder; "is this how God views his people?" I was looking at the pastors like "they know the bible and this is how they think so it must be how God looks at people."

    Years passed and I dove into a lifestyle that is a complete contrast to the one that I'm living right now. It was a lifestyle of women, fast money, drinking, smoking and partying just about every week. I was living what the bible calls riotous living - kind of like the Prodigal Son. There was a void in my life and I didn't know how to fill it. I was so unhappy during that time in my life. I didn't know what to do what my life. I wasn't to the point that I was suicidal but I didn't care if I died so I was living each day as if it was my last.

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    Higher Calling

    Things changed when one of my friends invited me to church. I was hesitant at first because I wasn't willing to change how I dressed or how I looked so I feared being rejected again. My friend told me that his church wasn't like that so I went to one service and really enjoyed it. When I walked in there was a lot of people that knew me and knew how I was living at that time so they were like; "YOU go to church now?" That made me question if I was really that bad? So I was like "man, what's going on with my life?" I began to feel uncomfortable and I told my friend "I can't go to this church." He told me that it wasn't about what other people thought of me but about my relationship with God and not to give up. 

    One Sunday the pastor delivered a message that I felt was tailor made for me. He spoke about Church Hurt, the feeling of betrayal and people turning their back on you when you need them the most. The People of the Church acting as People of the World and The People of the World treating you better than the People of the Church. That resonated with me. That day I gave my life to Christ. Even then I was going to church every Sunday but still going home drinking and smoking and not fully committed to Christ and the Word.

    One night I was watching one of Roy Jones' last fight and I got a call from my friend to come to the studio. At the time I was a secular rapper so I went without giving it much thought at all. I didn't know it but I was being set-up "in a positive way." When I got to the studio I noticed about ten people that looked exactly like me hanging around and I knew something was up because they were all looking at me. I asked my friend what was going on and he told me "we set you up, it's time for you to REALLY give your life to Christ." Another guy came to me and told me "this is about to be the first day of the rest of your life." He hugged me and said, "I love you, but no one loves you like God does!" I looked into his eyes and saw that he meant it. I saw the passion, the fire, the commitment. I collapsed and began to cry out. I told them that if I was going to do it I would need them there by my side every step of the way. That if I messed up I would need them to correct me, to support me and not to turn their backs on me. We finished the night with a prayer and I gave my life to Christ "for real" that night.

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    The Pressure to be perfect

    This excited me. I was happy to be living. I felt a part of something, I had people that knew me supporting me. I began reading the word more, going to bible study every week and living the Word. We started a rap group called Jesus Or Bust, which means Jesus or die, and we lived by that; follow the word or die in your sins - that was our way of life. We put out an album in 2008 that was well received. It was an amazing experience. We put on one of the biggest concerts the city has seen in which we reached capacity and had to turn away 50-100 people at the door.

    People began to identify me as one of "the Jesus or Bust" guys. I felt like I became somewhat of a local celebrity. Whenever I was out and someone saw and recognized me I felt like I had to put whatever I may have been going through on a personal level to the side and put the "honk-dory" smile on my face so I was like; "here we go again." The pressure to be "perfect" was becoming too much. People always expected to see me as "that perfect young man." 

    As time went on I matured mentally and spiritually. Some of my friends were getting married., moving across the country or doing other things and some were drifting away from the Word so my relationships with the people that I was the closet to was changing and I found myself alone. I took this as God's was of getting my attention, telling me that he wanted some "Me time" with me. So he took everyone from me. It was just me and God by ourselves. I was attending church alone so I began helping out the pastor, helping out with the youth ministry and just being a servant. I wasn't dating anyone at the time or doing much outside of church, I was solely focussed getting closer to God. 

    The pressure to be perfect was still there and I felt like people were watching me, waiting for me to fail and that hurt. I realize that I'm not perfect and so I didn't want people to shun me or turn their back on me when and if I was to make a mistake. I'm human so that's going to happen and that's when I need people's love, support and prayers. 

    For as a man thinketh in his heart so is he.
    — Proverbs 23:7

    I focussed on becoming the man that God wanted me to be. With that when the time presented itself and the right person came along I would be ready to become someone's husband and not just their boyfriend. God blessed me with a woman that is perfect for me. I met a woman that studied the same thing in school that I did, that was trying to get closer to God. We both had things happen in our lives that could have soured us on love, trust and life in general but we had faith in God and were blessed to meet each other and fall in love. We both are flawed and are far from perfect but we accept each other's flaws and we are perfect for each other. We are in this together for life.

    The pressure is their in our marriage as well because I feel like people are waiting on me to mess it up and make the rumor mill. To do something that's going to jeopardize me being a good husband to my wife and father to my daughter and I'm not going to let that happen. I know that I'm not the "perfect guy" but I also know that I'm not a heathen. I'm a man that's flawed but I'm also a man that loves God. I'm a man that's been through the ringer when it come to church and dealing with people in the church. So I just want people to realize that God is the only one that I have to prove anything to. I live a great life, I love my life and I refuse to ruin it by trying to live up to the expectations of others.

    Lately some people have felt the need to challenge or be combative to nearly everything that I post on social media. I understand that we all see things a little differently but why get on their and waste time worrying about me? I don't understand how some people get more joy in watching or hoping for other people's demise than they do in watching them succeed. The saying "hurt people, hurt people" is so true and there's a lot of people hurting.

    Some people tend to only keep record of the time that you tell them "no." You can tell them yes a million times but as soon as they hear "no" come out of your mouth one time here comes the slander, the back-biting, the "I told you so's." They forget about all of the other things that you've done for them and never consider what you may be going through and focus solely on the "no."

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    Passion, Process, Purpose

    When I accepted God's calling I honestly didn't know what I was getting myself into. I just knew that I was excited to be called. I've started a lot of things in my life that I haven't finished but when God called me... I have to finish this. Even though I wasn't prepared to be called I feel that God is preparing me as I go. God gives me foresight, he guides me along the way. I never thought that I would be able to break down scriptures and get revelations from them, I never thought I'd be able to pray over someone but with God's blessings I'm able to do those things.

    There's  a Three (P) Principle that I live by: Passion, Process and Purpose. Everyone has a Passion; something that they love to do and a Purpose their reason for being here on earth. People have to realize that they can't go straight from their passion to their purpose, you have to develop and spend time on the Process. That's the hustle, the grind... the hard work. You have to learn how to embrace it and realize that that's where the reward is hidden. That's where faith comes in.

    I have a passion for young people, to see them do well and exceed. My process is dealing with the challenges and frustrations that go along with that and my purpose is to eventually have a youth center or place for young people to hang out in a safe environment and nurture them. Provide a place where they can just be kids and enjoy life.

    Everything that I've been through is about me embracing the process of life. God will take things away from you to get your attention and when that happens you can choose to get bitter or to get better. I'm happy with where I am in life right now and I realize that it is not by my doing. God has blessed me. I could not have painted this picture any better. When I was younger my dream was to be a big rap star. Had that happened I would have missed out on the best things/people in my life. I wouldn't have met my wife. I wouldn't have my daughter and there's no way any of that stuff could make me anywhere near as happy as they do. God called me, he told me he needed me to help young people; the fact that God trusts me to make an impact on the mindset of our youth brings me great joy.

    I don't live for "now." Now is going to come regardless. What does six months look like? What does five years look like? I personally believe that you have to live according to your own standards and your own goals. I try to get the young people that I work with to focus on that by challenging to be great because there's greatness in everybody, it just has to be unlocked.  Life is beautiful and life is great but life is also short so you have to make every day count. Life should be lived to the fullest.

      

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    Darryll Rice

    The Prodigal Son

    Husband, Father, Son, Brother, Rapper, Actor, Minister, Mentor, Student, Chef, Vacation Promoter, Business Man... Lover of God!

    instagram: @kingtonyjob

    facebook: Darryll Rice

    website: Divine Catering and Events

     

     

    A Dream

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    Mortal Man

    A Dream

    by: Ty Greenwood

    I dreamed a dream lately

    That they really see me,

    That they really feel me,

    That they won’t forget me

    That they won’t kill me

    Can you even hear me?

    I dreamed a dream lately

    That I truly matter

    My Black life matters

    That they don’t hate me, the Black rooted in me

    That they learn to like me and appreciate me

    (Yeah)

    I can’t see what they see, but I know it’s not me

    I gotta get this degree and be all that I can be

    See, I can’t look back and say “what if”, FUCK THAT

    I can’t look back and be stiff, FUCK THAT

    Their conspiracy, I am the victim of subjectivity

    It’s clearer lately, they’ll try to break me

    Then turn around and praise me

    I hope they really see me and that they don’t forget me

    Please don’t kill me

    I dreamed this dream lately

    (Yeah)

    I dreamed this dream lately

    Ty Greenwood

    I wrote this with one of my best friends, Passion, during our final semester of undergrad. I just heard the beat and then I started thinking about what I wanted to say. “I dreamed this dream lately,” came to mind. At the time I was directing my own original play, “This Kind of HATE,” which centered on issues of police brutality, race, interracial relationships, politics and media. It seemed like almost every other day there was something on the news about a young Black person being killed or beaten by the police. Part of this is where my inspiration came from to write my verse on the track. I began to think about all the dreams those Black people must have had and how they would never get a chance to see them come true. How the world never really got to see who they were. I feel in ways this was a cry out of anger, pain and hope.

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    Passion and I would often sit in the studio and reflect on the fact that we were two young Black kids from “the hood” that were about to graduate from college...something that statistically tells us that we wouldn’t. Talking about how far we had come never got old. All of the late nights and early mornings were worth that moment when our name was read and we walked across that stage to be handed our degree. Lord knows it wasn’t an easy road by any means. My first year, I wanted to transfer from Washington & Jefferson College (W&J), but two mentors of mine, Auntie Ketwana Schoos and Devan Carrington convinced me to stay and promised to have my back over the next three years. If it wasn’t for them I’m not sure I would’ve stayed. I can say I’m glad I did. My four years at W&J were definitely some of the best years of my life. I accomplished more than I could have ever imagined I would. Knowing I left a mark, a legacy and an impact on the campus reassured me that I had something to give to the world.

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    This is part two of Ty’s three part story. Click the link below to read the others.
     
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    Ty Greenwood

    I Danced With Death

    Writer, Poet, Actor, Director, Teacher, Student… MULTIFACETED

    twitter: @ty_greenwood

    instagram: greenwood26

    facebook: Ty Greenwood

    email: greenwoodet26@gmail.com

    "please be sure to comment below to continue the conversation, offer words of encouragement or to share your story."

    Neverland

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    Mortal Man

    Neverland

    by: Nathan Tipton

    That morning I couldn’t hear the tick tock of the timer clock resting in the crocodiles scaly stomach, as my ears were submerged underwater.

    But I could see the band of pirates we were racing against to see who could touch the wall at the edge of the ocean first. I don’t wanna brag but I won that race.

    After the victory, we made it back to the forest, I mean after the swim meet we made it back to my house… Sorry I had a big imagination as a kid.

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    But, at a young age Peter and Tink, I mean mom and dad, taught us all we had to do is think lovely thoughts and we could fly.

    And that’s all I would do, going on an adventures, exploring new lands, battling pirates, which is what I was doing after the swim that morning, until my brother and I heard a cry coming from the edge of the forest. It was Tink?

    “Peter is hurt”, she screamed, “Please call an ambulance!!!”

    We got the lost boys on our communication devices. Tootles, Nibs, Slightly, Curly and the twins sounded older than I thought, but they said they’d be over right away.

    When we went to go see what was wrong, Dad wasn’t breathing so we had to give him...

    I mean Peter was fine he just needed a sprinkle of pixie dust.

    The lost boys rushed in to help and said they’d take it from there.

    They made so much of a mess, I remember joking that we could have peter clean it up later.

    I asked one of the lost boys what was wrong and the officer replied, “He went into cardiac arr…”

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    I mean tootles said Captain hook caught an attack Peters chest when he wasn’t looking.

    We rode behind the ambulance to the hos…

    SORRY… I mean, I was have a hard time flying so the lost boys flew us to the Piccanny tribe, where Peter would be healed.

    Son it’s fine, don’t forget the happy thoughts, all you need is happy thoughts

    Please come here Son, don’t forget the happy thoughts, all you need is happy thoughts

    You have to go say goodbye to your father, don’t forget the happy thoughts, all you need is happy thoughts.

    When I walked in, I only remember seeing a beautifully painted picture with the color in the middle starting to bleed to the outside.

    Dad don’t you color out. Dad don’t you bleed on out.

    Stay in the lines.

    Stay in the lines.

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    In loving memory of my father. It is interesting to see how positively the growth from my father’s absence has affected me, and how it taught me (cliché alert) how short life really is. It taught me that there are so many points in life where one can deconstruct negativity and (hopefully) find a basis of gratitude. For instance, yea I am stuck in traffic, but when was the last time I was consciously thankful for my shoes, and whahahah I’m in a vehicle right now that can accelerate at inhuman speeds with the touch of my big toe!!!! WHAT THE F*** LIFE IS MAGIC!!! Granted it is also important to recognize that sometimes really real life can really real suck, and the emotions caused from that should not be invalidated. But recognizing how passively American culture has taught me to take my life for granted was very liberating to realize.  Trying to live in a space of constant communion with every relationship in my life (animate or inanimate, haha) makes it soooo much better. Whether that relationship is with my family, my friends, my strangers (yes, the strangers I interact with, not you haha), the mugs that holds my coffee in the morning, the seat I take on the bus, my car, my socks, the nature that I interact with, the sounds my ears hear (like even the sound propagating from my footsteps into my ears, then processing it through my brain is on some level infinitely complicated!!! AAAHH LIFE F***ING MAGIC!!!)...

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    Anyways, for myself, this trauma offered an opportunity equal in magnitude to grow. I could not be more thankful in this moment for my father, for the lessons he taught me while alive, and for the lessons he taught me in his absence. Love you Dad!

     

     
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    Nathan Tipton

    Neverland

    Student + Acoustician/Physicist + Poet + Musician/Composer

    Author of the book Jokes and Therapyhttps://www.amazon.com/Jokes-Therapy-Nathan-Tipton/dp/1548657301

    Sound Design/Composition:

    Junior Astronaut: https://soundcloud.com/junior-astronaut

    ReFlex Series: https://www.facebook.com/reflexseries/

    You Changed Me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iz-m_ETjUMc&feature=youtu.be

    Audiobook of The Love and Theory of Womanology by Leroy Bean

    instagram/twitter: @juniorastronaut

    snapchat: @blondrethegiant

    inquiries: nathandatipton@gmail.com

    I Danced With Death

    cover

    Mortal Man

    I Danced With Death

    by: Ty Greenwood

    Ty’s story will be shared in three parts with I Danced With Death being the first.

    I Danced with Death:

     I Danced with Death

    I Danced with Death for four days and nights

    But we went our separate ways

    See, I had thangs to do

    And Death didn’t understand that it wasn’t my time yet

    What I thought was only four hours, turned into four days

    And baby that was too long

    There were people counting on me

    I had to get back

    Death and I got into a fight

    Needless to say

    I came out alive

    But something tells me

    Death and I haven’t had our last dance

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    I guess it is not everyday that a healthy, fit, 21-year-old college athlete is told, “Ty, it appears that you have stage-4 critical chronic kidney disease, and your kidneys are functioning at about 10 percent. You will need a kidney transplant to save your life.”

    I mean, here I was weeks away from finishing my sophomore year at Washington & Jefferson College. I had just finished performing the lead role in our spring play, Eye of God, and celebrated my 21st birthday. Two weeks later I suffered a seizure caused by extremely high blood pressure and was taken by helicopter to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, where I would spend four days unconscious in the ICU on a ventilator before waking up to my family surrounding the bed. For 10 days, I stayed in the hospital while many tests were performed to analyze my kidney function. However, through everything, I remained positive and determined to live my life… and I did.

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    After being released from the hospital, I picked up where I left off with my life. I had applied to a program called Breakthrough Teaching in San Francisco, California to teach 7th, 8th and 9th grade English and writing. I was chosen as one of the 23 Teaching Fellows to attend the program. It was always one of my dreams to visit California, and this was going to be the perfect opportunity. As if that was not exciting enough, an even bigger dream of mine had always been to travel to London to study theatre arts. During my sophomore year, I applied to study abroad at St. Mary’s University in Twickenham, England, and I was accepted! I was going to London for a whole semester! Yes, I had just been diagnosed with stage-4 kidney disease, and yes, my kidney function was at 10 percent and falling, but I was not worried. I told my doctors, “I’m going to live my life and if I die, I’m going to die LIVING.”

    My summer was gearing up to be very busy, as I also had an eight-week apprenticeship at KDKA (CBS) TV-News studios in Pittsburgh to complete. I worked hard for each of my opportunities, and I had come too far not to take advantage. Four days after finishing at the news station, it was off to London for my semester abroad. London was life changing! I went to see over ten theatre productions and I loved every second of my classes. One class I took was screenwriting and it was during this class that my love for writing and wanting to create stories really began to blossom. I wrote a ten-minute short film script that was made and entered into the British Film Festival. I was able to learn about new ways to approach writing, the process of pitching story ideas, constructing a creative pack and editing my work.

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    Two weeks before I was supposed to return home from London that I began became very sick. I was not able to keep food down, and I had gained weight due to water retention. Sadly, I left London early. I returned home a few days before Christmas, and soon after, checked in with my kidney doctor to have blood work done. I was extremely tired over the course of the next week through Christmas. I was so exhausted; I ignored a number of calls, including my doctor’s office trying to get ahold of me to tell me that my hemoglobin (blood count) was very low. I had to go to the hospital to receive a blood transfusion immediately. Over the next eight days, I was told that my levels were so bad that I was breaking records—and not in a good way. I had to begin dialysis immediately to clean out the toxins in my body. The beginning of treatment was rough to say the least.

    About a week later, my older brother Lance came into my room and told me that he found out he was a blood match and could give me one of his kidneys. The amazing part about this is that I am adopted, and my blood type is O-positive, which means that I could only accept a kidney from someone who is O-positive. Lance and I are not blood brothers, but as far as the transplant was concerned, we were. I was filled with an abundance of emotions and relief. The surgery was confirmed to take place on Thursday, February 18, 2016. It was a success and after two weeks (a normal recovery time is six weeks), I returned to college and attended classes and rehearsals for the upcoming spring play in April.

     
    This is the first essay in a three part series by Ty. Please click the links below to read the others:
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    Ty Greenwood

    I Danced With Death

    Writer, Poet, Actor, Director, Teacher, Student… MULTIFACETED

    twitter: @ty_greenwood

    instagram: greenwood26

    facebook: Ty Greenwood

    email: greenwoodet26@gmail.com

    "please be sure to comment below to continue the conversation, offer words of encouragement or to share your story."

     

    Higher Calling

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    Mortal Man

    Higher Calling

    By: Ricardo Navas

    I don’t go through life worrying about getting sick or something happening to me because I know that my life is in God’s hands.

    When I first learned that my father had cancer I wasn’t really that worried. I felt like he was going to be fine. I felt like he was going to be beat cancer and that he was going to be alright. Even after he had surgery – I felt like he was going to recover and be ok. It was really hard for me to know exactly how he was feeling because when I was around him he would act as though he was doing fine but in reality he was in a lot of pain. I realize now that my dad was doing this to keep me, our family and everyone else from being sad. He didn’t want us to feel sorry for him or to get depressed. I think as a father, as a leader, as the man of the house he felt like that’s what he had to do. Even in his last moments my dad was hopeful and did not want us to be sad.

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    When my father passed away it really hit me that I was closer to him than I was to my mother. With my dad it was like we were friends, he was my father but we were really close. We talked a lot and we were open about everything. So his death hit me really hard. It made me realize that this could happen to me so I need to be prepared. I have to take care of my family, make sure I have life insurance and my affairs in order.  I also thought about what my family’s life would be like if I was no longer here. So you become more vulnerable when you realize that this can happen to you too. At the same time I know that God is in control. When he says that it is my time it is “my time.”  So I don’t go through life worrying about getting sick or something happening to me because I know that my life is in God’s hands.

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    A few years ago I was involved in a fatal car accident. I was hurt really bad and I nearly died but it wasn’t my time.  God said “it wasn’t my time yet.” I believe that I’m here because I still have work that God wants me to do. God isn’t finished with me. My purpose is here right now. We have to learn to take each and every day as a gift and not worry so much about “what could happen” because fear robs you of your happiness.

    Art has always been important to me, creating art is important to me.  I used to be a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter. That helped me realize that martial arts are just a physical way of expressing yourself and creating art. As a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter I was using my body to create art. The injuries I suffered in the car accident prevent me from competing and I missed that feeling. I missed creating art.

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    When I do something I do it with passion. I take my time learning the art. I don’t just do it because I “like it.” When I do something I put my heart into it. I felt like I had all these years doing Jiu Jitsu and now I can’t compete anymore, I can no longer use my body to create art. I didn’t know how to paint or how to draw, so I thought “maybe I‘ll be good at taking pictures.”  That’s when I got into photography. That’s when I realized that photography was going to be a new way for me to create art and express myself. Now when people ask me what I do for a living I tell them that I am a photographer. Even though I am an entrepreneur that’s running a successful business I identify myself more as a photographer. My business is a way for me to provide for my family but in my heart photography is my passion.

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    Losing my father and being in that car accident has made me “tougher.” One of the last times I cried was when my dad died. Experiencing my father’s fight with cancer and nearly losing my own life just made me realize that those things can and will happen. Now when I see or experience something emotional it’s almost like I’m immune to it.

    Another thing I want to talk about is how often things in America is taken for granted. I realize that I have opportunities that other people don’t. I grew up in Venezuela. When I was in second grade I used to walk a mile or more to school by myself. I would see so many disturbing things. I would walk pass dead animals, dead people, I got robbed. It was rough but all of those things made me stronger. When I moved to America I felt like people expected less of me because I was foreign. Even as owning my own business isn’t enough. I don’t look like the typical business owner so... that motivates me to be better, motivates me to prove people wrong.

    In Venezuela grew up in without a lot of things so I had a chip on my shoulder. People expected little of me, even my own family. Some of them say, “I’m surprised that you have your own business, that you’re able to capture such good pictures – that you’re doing so well in life.” I felt like people thought I wouldn’t accomplish anything in life so that pushed me.

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    I believe Venezuela has the second worst “documented” crime rate in the world. When I grew up it wasn’t like that there. It was known for our oil, gold and diamonds. Venezuela also has the most Miss Universe winners. So we were known for having beautiful things and beautiful people. So when I talk to people that have moved here from back home I talk to them and I challenge them to do their best. I remind them that when we move to other countries it to better ourselves, not to be the same type of people that we would have been if we had stayed in Venezuela.

    There is so much opportunity here. And I think that’s what makes America so beautiful. Even though there’s racism and a lot of people that hate, you have opportunities. If you put that noise aside you have a chance to be great. I guess you have that chance in any country but especially here. If you study and work hard there’s no reason that you cannot get what you want in life.

     

    Ricardo Navas

    Higher Calling

    Family Man + Venezuelan + Latino

    Entrepreneur + Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Fighter

    Photographer

    instagram: @navasphotos

    website: navasphotos.com

    “Arte Suave”

    Smooth Art